A bipartisan bill from U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) to provide American military veterans with increased telehealth services that include mental health care unanimously passed the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3 with support from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).

“All of our veterans must have access to quality and timely care, including life-saving mental health treatment, regardless of where they live,” said Sen. Ernst, a combat veteran.

Sen. Ernst and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2017, known as the VETS Act, S. 925, on April 25, 2017. The U.S. House of Representatives approved its version, H.R. 2123, introduced the same day by U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), on Nov. 7, 2017.

With the Senate’s passage of Ernst’s bill, lawmakers now must reconcile language in both bills before a final version is sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

Sen. Tillis, a cosponsor of the Senate measure, urged House members to quickly approve a reconciled bill.
“Veterans currently receiving telehealth services must be physically present at a VA hospital or clinic, an unnecessary burden that prevents them from getting the health care they need and deserve,” Sen. Tillis said in a Jan. 5 statement.

“The VETS Act will allow veterans to receive these services from the comfort of their own homes and provides expanded access to health care from the VA,” Tillis added.

Sen. Hirono also asked House members to quickly approve S. 925.

“The VETS Act will help Hawaii veterans access high quality VA care and health services when they need it, where they need it,” Hirono said. “I urge the swift enactment of the bill and will continue to fight to ensure Hawaii veterans can access the care they need from a strong, well-resourced VA system.”

The VA announced in August 2017 that it would broaden veteran telehealth services and offer telemedicine across state lines, similar to provisions in Ernst’s bill, according to her office.