VA bridges digital divide for Veteran with old laptop

No more 3-mile bike rides to access Wi-Fi


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Until a recent act of kindness, Veteran Charles Murray, 66, would lug his heavy, 12-year-old laptop three miles on his bike to Igo Library in San Antonio. He endured the weight of the eight-pound laptop in his backpack, pedaling in the Texas summer heat because he couldn’t afford bus fare.

Once he arrived at the library, which was closed due to the pandemic, he would sit on the outdoor patio and use its Wi-Fi to conduct his VA telehealth appointments. Murray did not have broadband to participate in video visits from his home.

“The video visits add a different dynamic than over-the-phone appointments,” Murray said. “It’s almost like you are right there with the person.”

As the days became colder, the library patio became a less appealing option. Thanks to VA, Murray found a way to connect with his VA care team by video from the comfort of his home. His home was also secured through a VA program since he previously experienced homelessness.

Digital Divide consult helps qualified Veterans get loaned equipment

Murray isn’t alone in not having reliable internet access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 15% of Veteran households do not have a way to connect to the internet at home. That’s why VA Telehealth Services has developed the Digital Divide Consult and the connected device program. The programs help qualifying Veterans receive VA-loaned equipment.

Murray and his VA social worker Heidi Morris meet in San Antonio to exchange Thanksgiving Day wishes.

Murray’s clinical psychologist, Dr. Amanda Wetegrove-Romine, ordered a Digital Divide Consult for Murray. The consult determined his eligibility for programs to help him get the internet service needed for VA telehealth. Heidi Morris, Murray’s homeless program social worker, then completed an assessment for a VA internet-connected device.

In collaboration with Apple – and facilitated by the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships – VA loaned Murray an iPad with cellular data service, as well as start-up instructions. Since then, Murray has connected with his care team through VA Video Connect from his home.

Patients more engaged using computer camera

Wetegrove-Romine said that providing Murray and other Veterans with these tools was a game changer. She added that Veterans are more engaged when they’re in front of a camera. And they reveal more through nonverbal cues – such as facial reactions to treatment recommendations – than they do over the phone.

“You need the internet right now, especially during the pandemic, to take part in health care, employment and education,” said Dr. Kevin Galpin, executive director of VA Telehealth Services. “It’s important that every Veteran has the ability to stay connected.”

VA social workers have seen an increase in Veteran engagement in VA programs due to increased access to VA-loaned devices and connectivity resources, said Jennifer Koget, a licensed clinical social worker and acting national director of VA’s national social work program office.

“Don’t know where I’d be without VA”

“Social workers can now reach Veterans who were lacking technology and connectivity resources and focus on resolving social determinants of health challenges, resulting in improved Veteran wellness,” Koget said.

“Veterans who have received VA-loaned connected devices have been thankful for and respectful of the technology,” said Wetegrove-Romine.

“They’re something to look forward to,” Murray said of his virtual visits, using his iPad. “They activate my mind to use brainpower. I don’t know where I’d be without the help of VA.”

Murray still enjoys biking through San Antonio on warmer days and researching on his iPad. He plans to learn how to check out e-books on wellness, spirituality and African American history from the library next.

For more on the Digital Divide Consult and related programs, check out this fact sheet.


Treva Lutes is the communications lead for the Office of Connected Care.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Bob Thomas    

    The comments of others has promoted my comments in response. In advance, I apologize for any errors as I am using my voice to text and I don’t always catch the words of changes.

    I agree with the comments of B.A. Hart.
    My experience with the VA over the decades that I’ve been a patient has been excellent. Well beyond my expectations. I am treated with the greatest of respect and my needs have been addressed whether it be medications, surgery and other needs. I reservations that using the video contact was going to result in a lower level of medical care. After my first video contact I became a supporter of this program. My meeting with my primary provider was as good as meeting in person. In fact my primary provider spent a full hour meeting with me. My needs wear discussed and addressed, referrals were forwarded to other departments for further treatment. I drive 2 1/2 hours each way in traffic, sometimes in snow and ice. At times I need to leave much earlier than 2 1/2 hours to allow for challenging weather conditions. I always plan on arriving for my appointment at least 20 minutes or more early. Seldom have I waited passed my appointment time to be seen. Life happens! Yesterday I drove the 2 1/2 hours each way for my appointment to review my test results to decide the path forward. The appointment was not rushed, but very professional. Again, all the time needed to address the issues was provided. I try not to expect more than humanly possible of the VA health providers. Consider the number of patients they must see each day. Whether it be video connect or face-to-face appointments. At 74 years of age, I hung on the windows XP as long as possible. I have to admit that I have not kept up with technology. Again the VA has provided technical assistance through their IT team and patiently walk me through the procedures. It’s well known if you want to get some rest after surgery, it won’t be in the hospital. It’s their job to keep track of their patient’s condition. In my case, Vitals need to be taken, medication administered, Blood drawn as needed, even throughout the night. At times and nurses are loud. At times they are discussing patients conditions. At times It they may sound like gossiping. I recall when I was working there was no shortage of “ gossiping“ or conversations. The VA healthcare providers are no different then you and I. They have lives, they share stories of each others lives, which helps them to become a team.

    Yes, I have praised the VA system. No, I don’t have any family that works in healthcare, or the VA System. I wanted to present my view of how I feel about to treatment I have received. No the system is not perfect. Many things need to be addressed and improved. I agree the snacks and convenience foods are marked up. I agree some doctors become stressed and seem a little short on patience. I agree some doctors are very difficult to understand, mostly because of the foreign accent. This does not lessen their ability to provide excellent care. Sometimes we are the ones that must be patient. When word spoken or not understood, ask for them to be repeated. On occasions I have asked for instructions to be written down. Mostly so I won’t forget the instructions, and sometimes I flat don’t understand the person. I have used Community Care, or the mission act, and sometimes it has gone smoothly and sometimes it’s a disaster. Bills aren’t paid to doctors, hospitals, and providers. I have received the late notice of bills do. I became so frustrate I started making phone calls and phone calls and phone calls. Finally I broke through the bureaucracy and discovered the problem. The hospital, doctors, and other providers are not sending the bills to the correct address. I they were being mailed to a VA office that does not pay bills. I obtained the correct company and address that processes the VA billing and provided it to all of the folks wanting money. Yes, it took a few months to get it all cleared up. Now, I provide the billing information before any procedure or office visits. Still a few slip through. Normally one phone call solved the problem. Yes it was a pain in the butt! But it has nothing to do with the quality of care. It has to do with bureaucracy! And that’s not going to go away.

    We are all veterans! We’ve been through the fire! We did not succumb them, we should not succumb now. Times are difficult, many of us are homeless and sadly some of us are still living the horrors of the past. We are fighters! We fought for this country under the flag of the red white and blue. Now is not the time to stop the fight. The fight today is different. There are no bullets flying, there are no Claymore‘s, no roadside bombs. Today the fight is our responsibility of ensuring that we are taking advantage the benefits we have earned and deserve. Sometimes that means We must endure the inefficiency and stupidity of bureaucracies. We deserve and should expect to live our lives to it’s fullest. Sadly, far too many veterans carry physical scars of war. There are other scars of war that are not so obvious. Today, all of us I have the right to expect the help we need. If you are not receiving the proper care in a VA hospital, hold that button down and let it ring and ring and ring. Pick up the phone and call your doctor, call family members, call anyone you think can help resolve your issues. Most of all do not let anger drive your conversations. Explain your situation, explain your discomfort, explain the lack of care or any other issue you were having. Information the the only thing that will resolve the problem.

  2. B. A. Hart    

    I get my care at the Little Rock/North Little Rock VA system and I have no large complaints. My care is awesome. Sometimes it takes time to get in touch with my primary, but under the current circumstances it is not a big deal. I went to pick up some meds and noticed a team giving employees Covid vaccines, walked over to ask if they knew when vets might start to get them. Bingo! They said they an extra shot and did I want it. Yep, got it. Just got the 2nd one recently. A few years back I needed a serious operation and was treated wonderfully. Its not always perfect but no healthcare is. Not even private. My friends complain about bad care and they have to pay for theirs. They tell me when they have the flu they cant get an appointment for weeks to a month. We have urgent care located by the Emergency Dept, and yeah I have to wait hours sometimes to get seen by a Doctor or Nurse for fever, flu, etc but not for serious stuff like chest pain etc. I would like to move from Little Rock, but no way would go too far from my VA. I feel safe there and know those great folks will take care of me.

    If I ever had a real serious issue at VA I would go to the Patient Advocate, its their job to help you, and if that did not help resolve the issue you can always call your congressman or congresswoman, or your Senator for help. For those of you in TX try Ted Crus he is your Senator in Washington DC. For those of you in Arkansas call Senator John BBoozman.

  3. Michael Thomas Dooley    

    When will the VA provide real care. instead of just publishing all this slick, digital eye-wash and propaganda? No one at VA knows me, at all. Just another bloated bureaucracy, top heavy and disinterested. I am required to drive 2.5 hours each way, to receive any but the most perfunctory attention or “care”. That’s FIVE HOURS on a dangerous highway, an entire day at the Houston VA, which has become a WalMart with ancillary medical services. Hallways clotted with vendors hawking cheap Chinese goods, highly questionable dietary challenges, and assorted beverages at significantly larcenous price markups. All for the cattle-car medical practice that allows 10 minutes of contact with someone who obviously couldn’t care less, who fails miserably at listening, nor anything remotely resembling “care”.
    Spent four days in post-op after a 12-hour head-and-neck dissection for cancer, kept awake nightly by nursing staff chatting and grabassing, loudly sharing gossip of the day, ecayseand NOT ONCE could I use the bathroom because of the blood and fecal matter clinging to the seating surface. The food was beyond awful, complaints were received but ignored, and the “ambiance” was a constant reminder that patients were a necessary evil to be treated like an interruption to staff routines. Every 10-minute contact leads to “referrals” to yet another specialty appointment or diagnostic, shuffle off to another choked waiting area on another floor, another few hours of waiting, another 5 hour drive, another disinterested face, sometimes barely understandable English language skills, total unfamiliarity with my history and treatment regimens.

    What happened to the “Choice” program? I was given the card, zero instructions how and where I could use it for localized care and so I used the anecdotes of my fellow vets as my guide. The overwhelming opinion? Veterans’ Choice will leave you with bills unpaid to providers, HUGE out-of-pocket expense, “Don’t use it, they won’t pay.” Congressmen get care, Veterans get the cattle car. Oh, and miss an appointment due to traffic or other circumstance? I got a threat letter, offering to remove my VA benefits if I failed to make appointments. That’s CARE.

  4. James Coffman    

    I cant even load my Apple made Gn Linx Quattro headphones. I cant even load the App, but yeah, great!

  5. timothy ard    

    So how is providing him with even older technology than a 12 year old laptop bridging the divide? Is it to show him just how far behind the phones are? Better be!!!!

  6. Stanley Thomas    

    Does anyone know a program in Texas that helps veterans get their drivers license reinstated. Please let me know. Thank you

  7. Kenneth Floyd Allmer    

    The Digital Divide Program sounds like a very powerful opportunity for veterans. Hopefully it is available nationally.

Comments are closed.