ATLAS (Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations) is the future of telehealth outside of a VA facility. It gives a private space for Veterans to meet with their VA providers through VA Video Connect, VA’s secure videoconferencing app. The pod is equipped with high-speed internet access, a site attendant and the technology needed for video visits.
Veterans can access clinical services that do not require hands-on exams through a video visit at the ATLAS site. These services vary by location but can include primary care, mental health and specialty care services.
Michael Hughes, VFW Post 2487 commander in Los Banos, California, relocated his office so a state-of-the-art ATLAS pod could be installed in March 2021.
It was “A long time coming,” Hughes said.
Now, more than 100 ATLAS encounters have occurred at the Los Banos site since its opening.
Providing better access to care
“The organizations that installed the pod should be commended,” Hughes said. “I was here every day they installed it. It’s really nice and private.”
The post’s pod is a collaboration of VA’s Office of Connected Care, Philips North America, VA Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships and VFW.
Unlike most ATLAS sites, VFW Post 2487 is a joint post with American Legion Post 166. For Veterans living in and around Los Banos, the ATLAS site at the joint post eliminates many barriers to care.
“It’s important to get these services to Veterans because many are older and have issues traveling to VA for care,” said Hughes. “I’m a disabled Veteran myself. And I’ve seen a lot of Veterans ignore the care they need because it is too much trouble to go to a facility.”
Ten-minute commute vs. 60-90 minute drive
It’s nearly an hour drive from the post to the nearest VA community-based outpatient clinic. And the Fresno VA Medical Center is around 90 minutes away.
“It’s much more convenient for Veterans to drive five to ten minutes from home versus driving an hour and a half for a 15-minute appointment,” said Joe Benitez, a care coordinator at Fresno VA. “I encourage all Veterans local to the area to at least try it. There’s no comparison.”
And a five-minute commute is real. Hughes said the ATLAS site is so convenient he rides his bike to the post for his appointments.
The future of care is telehealth
“Telemedicine is becoming the future,” Hughes said. “I think ATLAS is one of the best things that has come out for Veterans.” In fiscal 2021, more than 2.3 million Veterans received a part of their VA care through telehealth, which includes VA care received through an ATLAS site.
Benitez, who often travels from Fresno VA to help out at the Los Banos ATLAS site, is consistently reminded of the site’s benefits. “I’ll show up and there are guys who go in the pod and say, ‘Oh, I love this thing. It’s so much easier than you think it is. I’m going to keep coming back,’” said Benitez.
And Benitez said VA staff members and site attendants are available to help Veterans who may be skeptical about trying telehealth. “It is a pretty seamless process. We’re there. We’ve got you. And we ensure that there are no concerns about privacy or using the equipment.”
“You don’t have to come back. But I’ll bet you will!”
Hughes, a retired police officer and now Veterans Court advocate, said he does not want to see Veterans not seeking treatment.
“I want other Veterans to get the care they need sooner than I did,” said Hughes. “And ATLAS provides just that.” The Post 2487 ATLAS site has had more video visits than any other ATLAS site.
Whether speaking with fellow Veterans or VA providers, Benitez shares the same message. “I’m a Veteran. I’m pro-Veteran and my main goal is to help Veterans. I’ll do my best to convince you that ATLAS is a good thing for you to use. And all I ask is you just try it once. You don’t have to come back. But I bet you will.”
Want to see what an ATLAS pod looks like? Watch this video of the Los Banos ATLAS pod.
Post 2487 is one of 13 ATLAS sites nationwide. Learn more about the ATLAS pilot program and find sites nationwide.