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Veterans Get a Dose of Technology

VA promotes new initiatives in health care.

Long after the war wounds heal and scars fade, veterans in rural areas see a gap separating them from the proper medical care they need.

“It can be difficult when veterans need care and have to go off island because they can’t get it here,” said Larry Helm, commander of Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans.

In an effort to provide all veterans with adequate health care, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is becoming a major adopter of mobile health technology – also known as telemedicine. Last week, board members of the VA Pacific Islands Healthcare System (VAPIHCS) visited Molokai to discuss these innovations and how they could eventually service Friendly Isle vets.

Telemedicine allows doctors to communicate with patients over long distances using phone conversations, videoconferencing, e-mail or texting to exchange medical information.

During last Tuesday’s town hall meeting, Dr. James Hastings, VAPIHCS director, told Molokai veterans about new in-home monitor systems that help track a patient’s health. Patients would have the opportunity to communicate with their physicians through a TV-like monitor, without having to leave the home.

While this development is still in the works, Molokai vets have access to a similar service that allows them to speak with a psychologist or psychiatrist on Maui via videoconferencing. Helm said although having some form of psychological counseling is better than none, the vets who have tried it are a bit skeptical, and would prefer the counseling in-person.

“They don’t want to share their deepest feelings through a TV,” he said. “It’s hard to feel comfortable and gain trust.”

Opening Access
For veterans living in rural areas, such as Molokai, access to health care and live doctors remains a key barrier, as they simply live too far away from the nearest VA medical center – in this case, Oahu.

Helm said it’s inconvenient for veterans to travel all the way to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu every time they need care beyond Molokai’s limits. Some vets don’t have the full benefits that cover travel costs, he added, becoming an additional expense.

Still, Molokai has made significant progress with its veteran health care services over the years.

Thomas Driskill, VAPIHCS rural health coordinator, remembers when he first came to Molokai several years ago and veterans essentially had nothing in terms of medical care.

“Now there’s a physician, a homecare nurse, social worker and all this new technology coming,” he said. “Molokai has come a long way.”

Dr. Kathleen McNamara has been serving Molokai veterans for almost two decades, making visits twice a week. Veterans also recently gained a homecare nurse, Rosalee Scwiber, who started just weeks ago and is on island 24/7.

Helm added that since the opening of the veteran’s center on Molokai six years ago, about 50 vets who never had health benefits are now enrolled, totaling some 200 vets registered in the health care system out of Molokai’s 600.

“Of course there are always improvements that can be made,” Driskill said. “But I’m really excited for the future of the vets on this island.”

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