The Conway VA Clinic was the first stop for Sen. John Boozman on Thursday, April 1, as he toured the region in a series of one-hour stops.
The Conway Clinic, the only VA Facility on the tour, was a chance to review its vaccination program, including the VA’s mobile vaccination program outreach. Other stops included public hospital vaccine clinics in Russellville, Fort Smith and Springdale. Boozman, a retired optometrist, is a member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations and Veterans Affairs committees.
Boozman was given a tour of the facility, including its optometry center where he had a chance for hands-on time with equipment, as well as a review of health care scope, including the growing importance of telemedicine, all-the-more important during a pandemic with its ability to offer “hands off” care.
Central Arkansas VA Medical Center Director Dr. Margie Scott explained to Boozman the growing importance of telemedicine in providing care, including mental health care, for patients. This included the VA distributing iPads to patients in some cases in order to promote access.
What followed was an exchange between Scott and Boozman about the importance of broadband infrastructure, coupled with the need to “incentivize telehealth,” Boozman said.
Vaccination included Boozman speaking with a patient there, a veteran, receiving his first dose of the vaccine as well as the clinicians in the vaccination process.
Boozman and Scott also discussed the recently signed-into-law VA SAVE LIVES Act. The act, signed by President Joe Biden on March 24, allows spouses of VA patients to receive COVID-19 vaccine at VA facilities as well as expanding eligibility for veterans able to receive vaccine through the VA.
The act, coupled with the mobile clinics, has allowed Central Arkansas VA to give more than 30,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to date, Scott said.
Such access provided “the quickest path back to normalcy,” Boozman said.
Access to health care for veterans continued as Boozman and Scott succeeded the Mission Act, signed into law in 2018, which allows veterans to seek treatment with local providers when VA wait times are too long. Additional funding has permitted the VA to have eight clinics in the Central Arkansas region. This, in turn, is being leveraged in the VA’s increased emphasis on mental health, including suicide prevention.
Boozman indicated additional legislation could be expected to promote access to suicide prevention care for veterans. This is especially important in light of the majority of veteran suicides being among those who are not enrolled in the VA health care system, he said.