Veterans receiving care at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas, can now connect to mental health services remotely using a computer, smartphone or tablet. The system, called telemental health, has helped nearly a thousand Houston area Veterans get the care they need.

Tele-mental health uses the VA Video Connect app, which provides a secure connection between Veteran and provider no matter where the Veteran is located. Seventy-five Houston VAMC mental health providers are equipped to provide remote services.

“The technology is ideal for Veterans who live far away, have medical problems or find it difficult to leave the house,” said Houston VAMC psychologist Dr. Jan Lindsay.

“Often, coming to the clinic is a big burden for our Veterans. Barriers include child care, traffic, parking, taking off work or feeling anxiety when leaving their homes for treatment.”

Tele-mental health eliminates those barriers. “When we provide psychotherapy via telehealth, some Veterans report that being at home makes it easier to focus on the work being done and acquire the skills they need to engage their lives more fully,” said Lindsay. “They feel safer at home.”

“It is actually easier than coming into the facility,” said Air Force Veteran Christopher Banks. “I can be in my own home, which helps me with sharing.”

Banks, who has trouble walking, often had to cancel his in-person mental health appointments. When he did make it to the provider’s office, he had to fight traffic to get there. “I’d get so stressed from the drive that I would spend 90 percent of my therapy talking about why I’m so angry,” he said.

Houston VAMC social worker Veronica Siffert places a consult for a Veteran to receive telemental health services

Houston VAMC social worker Veronica Siffert places a consult for a Veteran to receive telemental health services

Tele-mental health is “a major benefit for those with mobility issues,” agreed Dr. Kaki York, deputy clinical executive with the Houston VAMC Mental Health Care Line.

“We have Vets with ALS or Parkinson’s or who have had a stroke, who for whatever reason cannot get here to continue treatment. Also, family therapy services. Have you ever tried to coordinate an entire family? It’s very difficult. Video allows them to get in the same place at the same time instead of getting all of them to the VA.”

Veterans who travel for work also benefit from using telemental health. “Houston has a lot of oil field workers who live here for part of the time but somewhere else the other time,” said York. “They’re here for three months, then travel for six months. If they have an internet connection, we are here for them.”

For Banks, another plus is that reading material his therapist recommends is right at his fingertips. “When I was with the providers, they would recommend different links or health guides and I had to wait to get home to pull it up,” he said. “With telehealth, it’s right there. Memory is not the most reliable, especially with some of us Vets. At home, I can open a search bar and go straight to it.”

There are advantages for clinicians as well. For example, during an office visit, if a therapist asks a Veteran what medications she is taking, the Veteran might not remember them all. Using remote video, the Veteran can just show the therapist her medication containers.

“It’s up to each Veteran how much he or she uses remote services,” said Lindsay. “If you like coming into the clinic to see your provider, you can continue to do so and only use video telehealth when convenient,” she said. For Veterans who lack the means to connect remotely, equipment is available to use for the duration of treatment.

“Our goal would be that any mental health clinician at the main facility will be able to provide telehealth services when the patient wants it and provider thinks it would be helpful,” said York. “We are not quite 100 percent there yet, but we are getting close.”

Todd Goodman, public affairs specialist, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Todd Goodman, is a Public Affairs Specialist, at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center

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Published on Jun. 11, 2019

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  1. Frederick M. Dailey July 9, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Another interested Vet! I now receive my tele-mental health appointments but I’m told I have to travel to my Vet Center to make the connection. I have a very high speed optical fiber internet connection (35-50 mbps) & a very modern PC (2018 Pavilion with Intel Core& & 8 gb of RAM, etc.) so I’m sure I could install the VA app & connect from my home, avoiding a 35 mile trip each way. Please make this method available to Vets like me who have the need, the hardware & the skills to do it

  2. Joseph Bailey Cowan July 2, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Vietnam veteran PTSD Interest in tele mental health

  3. Carolyn Young June 17, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    If good mental health cost big money we might as well commit suicide. No, actually you can get good mental health help for little or nothing. There are plenty of quacks who charge a lot of money. As someone over the years who has seen at least 16 of them in various ranges of cost per hour, guarantee it takes diligence; take time; take patience; takes research and investigation but it does not take “big money.” The least of what it takes.

  4. Harry C STACKLER June 17, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Made some serious mistakes financially, not broke, but because of these mistakes I need to refocus my energy, but am having problems putting together a plan. Respectfully Harry C STACKLER (CTICS SS USN-RETIRED VIETNAM-VETERAN)

  5. JON HESS June 15, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    It may be better then nothing,but not by much.
    Sitting in a room with someone is different than any type of electronic communication. Especially for therapy.
    I guess that’s why you origanally had to see a psychiatrist for refills.
    Now it’s like talking to Max Headroom while he’s busy typing
    There is plenty of research on nonverbal information being missed. How drunk am I anyway? Well that one good reason to stay home.

  6. sheila bowman June 14, 2019 at 6:49 pm

    I am a caretaker for my Mother in my home and I need mental health support. When will this service be available to veterans in the Martinsburg VA hospital area

  7. Tom White June 14, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    Several years late and the damage has been done and local VAMC keeps doubling down, it’s all about the VAMC not the vet in need. After at least a dozen attempts to receive services, even a child would let go.

  8. Betsy Bowie June 14, 2019 at 10:13 am

    I think it goes without saying that this would be a huge boon for most patients, especially mental health patients. My vet can’t handle crowded spaces. Waiting rooms just about put him over the edge (for a number of reasons) so his answer is to not go at all.

    I hope the program is successful and that it spreads out to the other facilities soon!

  9. Ronnie Williams June 12, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    This would be great for any Vet Expat and there are many of us. We already give up all of services because we don’t live in the States any longer. This could help any of us with mental health disabilities. It would be a great service to offer through the Foreign Medical Program. Living in Thailand, 50 years after serving in Viet Nam. The older folks here still love Americans.

  10. Reality Checker June 12, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Good mental health costs big money. Remember that.

  11. Moises Perez Garcia June 11, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    I want to receive healthcare technology at my home, in Puerto Rico I am disable

    • Tom White June 14, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Dazzlers of care is a more accurate statement. Talk therapy is a joke. It’s mental health not a quilting bee!

  12. Moises Perez Garcia June 11, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    I am a mental health patient and homeless waiting for board decisions to buy me an a first time home to receive healthcare technology treatment at home. I am Perez

  13. Teresa Hale Cook June 11, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    I would also like more info please.

  14. Victor Sellers June 11, 2019 at 3:14 pm

    Using this system, would it be possible to get some answers concerning the wrong that has been done by the VA past? Like how is it possible that the Army purposely denied me a copy of any medical records? Why the VA refused to respond to my records requests after discharge and when I did file, even without any records except one? I had a Permanent Profile DA3349 with P-3, but the Army and VA worked hand in hand to hide the medical evidence until 2015. I got some of the records from Vietnam showing hospitalization for a month straight, DA3349 making me non deployable, CODE: U, and permanent defects in my physical capacity and stamina. I suffered with a a Tropical Disease besides the Exposure to Agent Orange, and it was all covered up and intentionally hidden to deceive the public and deny my family any benefits whatsoever. I had a stroke or TIA in service, but I had a good recovery, so the Army and then the VA hid the evidence, and practically denied I was ever Boots on Ground. Illegal Aliens will get more medical care than I ever received and it took 44 years to even get service connected. I was hospitalized numerous times due to service in Vietnam, but refused all benefits my entire adult life. Why and how Mr. VA, could you do that?

  15. Sharon Babino June 11, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    I would love ptsd and mst help from home, I live in California, Sacramento is my city, my mental health is being helped through McClellan AB, please email me any info, although I love my doctor this would be in addition to. Thank you VA.

  16. Teresa Rodriguez June 11, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Are you going to expand this to other VA hospitals? I live 25 miles north of San Antonio and it is an ordeal for me to drive to the nearest clinic because of traffic and construction on the highways. I had a spinal injury and two operations and driving can be very painful for me, especially if I am in stop and go traffic the majority of the way. I need to use cruise control most of the time.

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