The Department of Veterans Affairs had to “think outside the box” to support veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and relied on data, technology and input from veterans, according to Dr. Lynda Davis, chief veterans experience officer at VA.

“When facilities began to expand their services to the veterans in the community they serve that were not just pandemic-related, we were able to text veterans for the first time and let them know when the facility would be opening up, what services it would have and how they make their appointments,” Davis offered as an example. “This enabled them to be informed without having to try to navigate the system.”

Davis was the keynote speaker at a July 30 virtual town hall, “The Evolution of Veterans Health Care During the Pandemic,” hosted by the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative.

One major shift in veterans’ health care since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic was the embrace of telehealth. VA officials said the technology in that area is continuing to evolve.

“We do have the ability to connect our video to additional Bluetooth, peripheral devices. These are Bluetooth-connected blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, weight scales and even a digital thermometer,” said Dr. Leonie Heyworth who leads VA telehealth services. “We are all-hands-on-deck with making sure we have the ability to support veterans with learning the technology and teaching them the digital skills that they need.”

Still, barriers remain to wider adoption of telehealth, including statutory regulations, which were only relaxed temporarily during the pandemic, and that 18 million American households lack broadband access.

“Our Bush Institute veteran wellness alliance partners have shared with us the stories of veterans who have needed to drive to a local hotel” to access an internet-connected device for telehealth care, said Kacie Kelly of the President George W. Bush Institute.

Blue Star Families Founder and CEO Kathy Ross-Douquet announced during the session that the organization is signing a new memorandum of understanding with the VA. “This will allow us to share information and resources and better serve veteran families, particularly in the communities in which we have chapters, so it’s an exciting day for sure.”

VA photo