Veterans who live near Springfield, Virginia, have likely sat idling in traffic on Interstate 395 on their way to receive health care in Washington, D.C. For those Veterans, navigating D.C.’s heavy traffic is no longer a problem – at least for their VA health care appointments. Thanks to ATLAS (Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations), those Veterans can now meet face to face with their VA providers through video telehealth technology in a private appointment room at American Legion Post 176 in Springfield.
The state-of-the-art appointment space in Post 176 is one of several ATLAS sites nationwide. ATLAS is VA’s innovative virtual health care option to help increase Veteran access to care. It not only provides a solution for Veterans with long travel times to VA facilities, but it also provides easy access for Veterans with limited internet connectivity at home.
“The ATLAS initiative is designed to provide convenient access to VA health care for Veterans living in rural areas, those with limited internet access and who don’t have a convenient location to connect with VA by video from their home” said VA Chief Officer of Connected Care, Neil Evans, M.D. “Telehealth has long been a principal part of VA’s care delivery to Veterans, even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The ATLAS site in Springfield is a joint effort to meet Veterans’ needs and provide an alternative option for high-quality care. The collaborative effort was facilitated by the VA Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships (SCSP). VA clinicians provide the clinical services through telehealth equipment donated by Philips North America, while The American Legion offers the community-based appointment space.
“VA is providing Veterans with that space to come in… to speak one-on-one with a VA provider using robust broadband service that is available to them, right in their community,” said Deborah Scher, executive advisor to the secretary and lead of SCSP. “We are grateful to all of our partners who play a role in this critical initiative.”
“We are primarily about helping Veterans to have and live a better life,” said Dennis Madtes, an Army Veteran and post commander at American Legion Post 176. “ATLAS will do that by cutting hours and time and frustration off their life just in their commute to get to VA here.”
The Springfield ATLAS site provides a convenient, comfortable space for Veterans to have candid conversations about their physical and mental health with their VA providers. The video telehealth technology enables Veterans to receive care closer to home. And the ATLAS appointment room offers complete privacy and is free of outside disturbances and distractions.
“I know that I can speak to a provider in a safe environment, in a confidential environment. I can actually focus on my physical and mental well-being,” said Alicia Martin, a Navy Veteran. “At the end of the day, this is crucial. Saving lives, one Veteran at a time, including mine.”
There are currently seven other operational ATLAS sites across the country: Asheboro, North Carolina; Boone, North Carolina; Eureka, Montana; Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; Howell, Michigan; Keokuk, Iowa; and Linesville, Pennsylvania. VA plans to open additional ATLAS sites through 2023 in collaboration with The American Legion, Philips North America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Walmart.
Ashleigh Barry is a senior advisor for communications at the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships.