More and more, our country’s health care systems are turning to technology to help improve care, communication and access for their patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its Community Care Network (CCN), supported by TriWest Healthcare Alliance (TriWest) in Regions 4 and 5, are using technology to provide Veterans with easier access to the high-quality, timely health care they need and deserve.
“Telebehavioral health care is not meant to completely replace in-person appointments; it’s a supplement. It provides additional access to Veterans who need it.” – Keith Jones, Founder and CEO
Through telemedicine, patients can connect with providers and specialists through video calls and live chats – wherever they are – when they need it most.
Telebehavioral health care and telemental health care are areas of telemedicine that enable Veterans to use technology to enhance their mental health treatment, often ensuring that they are seen quickly and regularly – regardless of their location or access to local in-person treatment.
Keith Jones is one of the dedicated individuals who believes in VA’s commitment to provide world-class mental health care to our country’s Veterans. His company hosts a network of thousands of behavioral health therapists serving VA and VA’s CCN.
Meet Keith Jones, Founder and CEO
Keith grew up in Chicago, where from a young age his parents instilled the values of hard work and dedication.
“Those values helped shape my career and drive my passions – I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 18 years old,” he shared.
Keith has a background in engineering and initially worked in real estate and finance, calling himself “a numbers guy.” But when Keith was just 16, he experienced a personal tragedy that brought home the importance of mental health care. His father suffered an aneurysm and passed away right in front of him.
“For a while, I just kept everything inside – all the grief and anger,” he remembered. A few months after his father’s passing, Keith broke down. “I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for over a month,” he said.
Keith believes this personal tragedy helped shape his path toward the mental health care field.
“From this experience, I developed a lifelong passion for mental health and helping others come back from the lowest points in their lives.”
At first, Keith wasn’t sure how to get involved. He didn’t have a degree in behavioral science and was busy with his other business pursuits. But Keith was moved by a staggering statistic he heard on Veteran suicide rates. According to data from VA, since 2001 the number of Veterans who commit suicide each day hovers around 16. Keith shares, “This statistic stuck with me. It was a problem that needed attention. Even if you could help just one or two Veterans – that mattered.”
A Way Forward
After hearing that statistic, he did some research and learned that some Veterans were facing long wait times to get mental health appointments – allowing too many Veterans to slip through the cracks.
“This was a problem that needed a solution – fast,” Keith said.
Keith learned about the VA’s community care options and figured out a way forward. Keith and his team explored developing a telebehavioral health platform, which in time would connect thousands of dedicated therapists to people who need access to mental health care.
He recalled the process of building the platform – from developing policies, working with VA, connecting with local pharmacies, creating emergency protocols, convincing providers of the importance of telemedicine and much more. In 2013, it began by working with VAs in California. Now, 10 years later, it provides services in all 50 states and 39 countries.
“We’ve grown larger than we expected,” he said. “Working with VA and its administrators like TriWest Healthcare Alliance, we’re able to solve problems — to see a problem, talk about it, find a solution, and execute.”
The Role of Telemedicine in the Lives of Veterans
VA is committed to providing timely and high-quality health care to our country’s Veterans, and telemedicine is helping to build upon that commitment. According to data from VA, 2.3 million Veterans used telehealth to access care in 2021.
“Telebehavioral health care is not meant to completely replace in-person appointments; it’s a supplement,” Keith said. “It provides additional access to Veterans who need it. With telemedicine, you can reach patients anywhere in the world – quickly.”
If you’re enrolled in VA health care, you have a number of telemedicine options. VA’s Video Connect allows you to meet with your VA health care providers through live video on any computer, tablet or mobile device, including access to telehealth programs such as TelePrimary, TeleMental Health and several TeleSpecialty Care services.
For some Veterans, it may be a way to connect with a specialist who doesn’t live where they do. Or maybe it’s too difficult to travel or take time off from work. For others, getting treatment at home may be more comfortable than entering a large hospital or clinical setting. Keith says, “Maybe you have a provider in Los Angeles but you’re a patient in Fresno. There may not be any providers in Fresno, but with telemedicine, a provider can see you – quickly – from the comfort and privacy of your own home.”
Of course, in-office appointments may still be necessary or preferred in certain situations, and telehealth is not a perfect fit for everyone or every medical condition. You have to feel comfortable with the type of care you’re receiving. You can talk to your providers about what telehealth services are available and which ones may be right for you.
If you don’t have access to a stable internet connection or a device, or if you’re not super comfortable using technology, VA offers Virtual Health Resource Centers that can provide you with hands-on support, training and more. You can also get VA-loaned devices and help accessing the internet.
A Passion for Serving Veterans
Keith’s dedication to Veterans is evident in the passion he exudes about his work.
“You only need to speak to one Veteran and hear their struggle to develop a strong passion and connection,” he said. “Our team has spoken with thousands of Veterans and many of our staff have family and spouses who have served or are currently serving. We actively on-board providers who have a connection to the VA community and who are passionate about giving back.”
That passion is found in the stories he holds onto as well. Keith remembers a call received recently – a Veteran who needed an appointment and medication.
“While I was talking to him, I could hear his kids in the background crying. He told me he hadn’t taken his medications for four days, and he hadn’t slept for three,” Keith shared.
Keith and his team arranged for a network provider to see the Veteran via telehealth and the provider’s prescription was sent to a local pharmacy where he could pick it up the same day.
“He was seen by a provider and he was so happy,” Keith recalled. “I called him a week later and he was a different person. A completely different person. And that’s why this work is so important — we’re giving Veterans easy and quick access to help.”
- VA offers a wide range of helpful resources, including the Digital Divide Consult for Veterans who lack internet access or who cannot afford new technology. The Digital Divide Consult offers the following assistance: VA internet-connected devices, internet and phone service discounts, telehealth sites in your community, free mobile connectivity for telehealth and more.
- Telehealth.HHS.gov offers information to help you decide whether telemedicine is right for you, as well as what services you can expect and how to find telehealth providers near you.
Editor’s Note – Thank you to SkyTherapist founder Keith Jones for participating in this article. SkyTherapist is just one of TriWest’s gateways to thousands of network providers caring for Veterans. If you are a network provider caring for Veterans, with a story about Veteran care to share, please email us at Media@TriWest.com.