STEP Act Will Help Expand Availability of Medical, Mental Health Treatment for Servicemembers
Legislation co-authored by Congresswoman Shelley Berkley to increase access to telemedicine for America's military servicemembers was accepted today as part of a defense bill now being debated in Congress. Known as The Servicemembers' Telemedicine & E-Health Portability or STEP Act, the legislation expands the current Department of Defense (DOD) state licensure exemption to allow credentialed health care professionals to work across state borders without having to obtain a new state license.
"We salute the members of America's armed forces for their military service. As a nation, we can honor the dedication of our troops by ensuring DOD has the resources and qualified treatment providers needed to care for these heroes," said Berkley. "That includes even more assistance for our troops who are coping not only with physical injuries, but with the challenges of PTSD and other mental health issues we are still working to better understand. The STEP Act recommits our nation to modernizing DOD for the 21st Century by increasing the quality and convenience of services and support available to our returning troops."
The Berkley legislation, added as an amendment to H.R. 1540, The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, addresses DOD's limited ability to allow its health care professionals to provide care when the patient is in a different state. The act adheres to DOD's current system of core and supplemental privileges for each respective specialty, ensuring high quality care and patient safety.
As a result of this limited ability, those who rely on military care are required to travel long distances to receive treatment, presenting increased financial burdens and unnecessary obstacles to accessing services. By removing this state licensure burden, the STEP Act empowers qualified DOD professionals to use cutting-edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat servicemembers regardless of their physical proximity.
"One of my long-standing goals in Congress has been to expand the availability of mental health services through DOD. Increasing servicemembers' treatment options by eliminating outdated restrictions on well- qualified health care professionals is an important step toward meeting that goal," Berkley said. "This legislation, which is now part of the larger Defense Authorization bill, addresses the changing medical needs of America's men and women in uniform. It also reduces barriers to ensure full access to quality health care for all those proudly serving in America's armed forces -- regardless of location."
The DOD's hands are tied when it comes to credentialed civilian employees and contractors who have stepped up to fill shortages in desperately needed positions, especially in the area of behavioral health treatment. The STEP Act will expand the definition of "health care professional" under the previous exemption to include qualified DOD civilian employees and personal services contractors. The bill requires a report within 90 days of enactment on DOD and Veteran Administration plans to develop and expand programs to use new Internet and communication technologies for improved access to telemedicine and electronic health programs.
The STEP Act has received support from the following organizations:
* Air Force Association
* Association of the United States Navy
* The American Legion
* Enlisted Association of the National Guard
* Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
* Mental Health America
* The National Guard Association of the United States
* The Reserve Enlisted Association
* The Military Officers Association of America
* Veterans of Foreign Wars