As VA leans on telehealth during pandemic, rural and minority vets lack internet, tech access

Using videoconferencing technologies to allow veterans to connect with their clinical caregivers.
Photo credit Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs is increasingly depending on telehealth, including online and phone appointments, during the coronavirus pandemic, with plans to expand. But many veterans, especially vets of color and those who are homeless, lower-income or live in rural or remote areas, struggle with access to Internet service and technology to get that virtual care.

VA officials touted the department as a leader in electronic healthcare options, including the 9 million more telehealth appointments VA has completed so far this year compared to last year, to lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday. But representatives of minority veterans, including Native Americans and Native Alaskans, said that telehealth option is not always available to all vets. 

Veterans can now access care "anywhere in the country" through telehealth, Veterans Health Administration consultant to the deputy undersecretary for health Jennifer MacDonald said. But veteran advocates said it's not that simple. 

VA's telehealth options operations have cause