Congresswoman Shelley Berkley applauded the inclusion of legislative provisions in a Defense Authorization bill passed last evening by the House that will enable greater use of telemedicine for treating military servicemembers. Berkley is a cosponsor of H.R. 1832, The Servicemembers' Telemedicine & E-Health Portability Act, or "STEP" Act, the bill from which the provisions were taken.
"This update will help us to better meet the needs of America's men and women in uniform by reducing barriers to care for those who proudly serve in our armed forces -- regardless of location," said Berkley. "One of my long-standing goals in Congress has been to expand the availability of mental health services through the Department of Defense. Increasing available treatment options for servicemembers by ending outdated restrictions on well-qualified health care professionals is an important step toward meeting that goal."
The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act incorporates provisions taken from the"STEP" Act that enable expansion of the current Department of Defense (DOD) state licensure exemption to allow certain credentialed health care professionals to work across state borders without having to obtain a new state license. The bill was authored by Congressman Glenn Thompson and cosponsored by Berkley.
"My goal is to make sure DOD has the resources and qualified treatment providers needed to care for those who serve our nation in the armed forces." 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. This bill recommits us as a nation to honoring the service of America's military, modernizing DOD for the 21st Century and increasing the quality and convenience of support and services for our returning troops."
Currently, DOD has limited ability to allow its health care professionals to provide care when the patient is in a different state. As a result, many who rely on military care, including mental health services, are required to travel long distances to receive treatment, presenting increased financial burdens and unnecessary obstacles to accessing care. By removing this state licensure burden, the legislation empowers qualified DOD professionals to use cutting edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat servicemembers regardless of their physical proximity.
The DOD's hands are currently 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 language expands the definition of "health care professional" under the previous exemption to include certain qualified DOD civilian employees and personal services contractors.