Now that we are a few days past our annual Veterans Day remembrance and nods of appreciation to those who have served our country with honor, it’s time to take a deeper dive into what we and technology can really be doing to support those who have protected our democracy, security and freedom.
I was recently horrified to hear the latest statistics on the suicide rate for our American veterans – over 20 commit suicide a day. A day! Per a recent VA study, that equates to one suicide every 65 minutes. According to the DOD statistics, nearly 4500 US soldiers died in Iraq as part of their service in the Iraq War – that total is nearly half of those who have served who take their own lives in a single year. And that does not even begin to cover those who are suffering from possible treatable mental health issues or from opioid addiction after service. That is simply a crime and unacceptable.
But what can really be done other than urging the government to find more and creative ways to serve our veterans once they return home? I’ve thought of this a great deal with a daughter who is a DoD civilian and is working with a number of military personnel and has seen first hand the pressure that our U.S. military can be under, even without active war service.
In spite of the fact that the Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest health care source in the country, for many of our veterans coming into a clinic or proximity to a clinic is difficult. In addition, the social stigma in a small town for seeking mental health or addiction support is still significant – no matter how enlightened we like to think society has become. That is where I continue to believe that telemedicine has some amazing applications and I like to think we haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done.
VA’s own experts have noted that many VA patients needed mental health support have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. This condition has patients suffer from recurrent unwanted and unwelcomed thoughts as well as ritualistic behaviors and a number of “triggers” including germs. In simple terms, that makes heading to a hospital or clinic even more stressful and hence the added value of doing video-based/telemedicine therapy from the comfort of their own home and living room.
Addiction is another area that clinicians in this space are studying and have found some amazing telemedicine applications. Currently about 11 percent of veterans who are receiving VA care have a substance abuse disorder – and it is likely that that number is low. The ability to use technology applications for regular treatment makes all the sense in the world and allows the patients to ensure they have a steady and recurring source of support. Isolation and loneliness is another byproduct that technology can bridge. We don’t need to look any further than the partnership Nelson Telecom in Wisconsin has formed along with WSTA for a beta project with iPads and seniors and how virtual communities can be formed.
According to DVA, nearly a quarter of U.S. veterans live in rural communities. The average distance to a VA medical facility for a rural veteran is 63 miles. That means there are folks in some of our more sparsely populated states where that distance is quadrupled or more! Addiction is another area that clinicians in this space are studying and have found some amazing telemedicine applications.
Putting an iPad or laptop in the hands of those who need support and ensuring communities have connectivity, makes all the sense in the world and is one of the reasons I love and admire NTCA’s membership – who strive on a daily basis to bring robust broadband to all corners of their service territories to ensure their consumers, including their returning veterans, get all the support they need.