In 2019, the first ATLAS site opened in Eureka, Montana, at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6786. Veteran Richard Weldon, post commander, didn’t know at first what to expect from the new, futuristic video visit space.

Post 6786 is one of 12 ATLAS (Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations) sites nationwide. ATLAS sites provide Veterans a comfortable, private appointment space with high-speed internet to meet with their VA providers virtually via video.

Within Post 6786 is a state-of-the-art ATLAS pod that was co-created by VA’s Office of Connected Care, Philips North America, VA’s Center for Strategic Partnerships, and VFW, along with Veterans and residents in Eureka.

This process involved role-play, mock-ups and innovative design to address accessibility, privacy and comfort. The result: an appointment space made specifically with the Veteran experience in mind.

“When I first heard about ATLAS, it sounded like an exciting prospect,” Weldon said. “As I watched the ATLAS pod come to life, it became clear how transformative this could be for the Veterans of Eureka.”

High-Quality care close to home

Eureka was chosen as the first location, as there is a large concentration of Veterans – about 500 – living in the rural area. Veterans living in rural areas like Eureka face challenges to receiving health care, such as long travel times to facilities or limited internet connectivity.

Pods are private with advanced features and access to VA Video Connect.

Before ATLAS, many Veterans in and around Eureka would have to travel more than 70 miles to the closest VA clinic or more than 250 miles to the Montana VA Health Care System in Fort Harrison.

Now Veterans in Eureka can receive the same high-quality care without the long travel times.

“We live four-and-a-half hours away from the nearest VA hospital,” Weldon said. “Any way to alleviate that commute is welcome and ATLAS offers just that. This is exciting for the post.”

Pod is private with advanced features

Some Veterans in Eureka were initially skeptical of the new technology at the ATLAS site and uncertain about what a video visit would be like for them. Some of them questioned whether a video appointment could be as good as meeting with their VA providers in person.

But as they used the pod they were pleasantly surprised. The pods are private and include advanced features, such as environmental controls, high-speed internet and access to VA Video Connect, VA’s secure videoconferencing app.

Veterans connect to their VA providers face-to-face within the space, as if they were meeting in person, for primary care visits, mental health counseling, nutrition services, social work visits and more.

The true experience

Weldon, who had never had a video appointment, was one of the first to try the ATLAS site. After he used it, he knew it would become an essential part of his VA medical care.

“Everyone has been extremely impressed with the pod,” he added. “Those who have used it, including myself, couldn’t be happier with it. The ATLAS site provides the same level of care and privacy that I’ve come to expect from VA. I can see the pod being my normal health care provider.”

ATLAS also offers mental health support, which Weldon views as essential to care. To encourage the use of the ATLAS site for mental health counseling, Post 6786 set up a private entrance to the space to maintain confidentiality and ease any privacy worries.

A vision for the future of health care

The Eureka ATLAS site is a glimpse into the future of health care, providing better accessibility and personalized care for Veterans in rural areas. Now Weldon wants to get the word out so that more Veterans in the community use the site.

“If the pod helps prevent one suicide, if it gives one Veteran what they need at that moment, it’s made the whole ATLAS effort worth it.”

For more information, visit the ATLAS webpage.

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