By Ashley Spinks, Communications Coordinator, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association
July 3, 2019
Several years ago, NTCA members met with the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) Office of Rural Health to discuss ways to increase veterans’ use of telehealth services. In a subsequent meeting that included VA and White House staff, NTCA members affirmed their commitment to use their networks to enable veterans’ access to better health care. In response to these meetings and in consultation with members and VA representatives, NTCA developed the Virtual Living Room, a model that would create venues at which veterans could use free, high-speed broadband to connect to VA telehealth and other online services.
Working closely with the VA and other local leaders, Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC; McKee, Ky.) leveraged a grant from the NTCA Smart Rural CommunitiesSM initiative to build a comfortable, accessible space for the veterans in its community. About 60% of veterans live in rural areas, and many struggle to access the healthcare they need because VA hospitals and clinics are located far outside their small towns. PRTC powered the site with its Gig-Capable fiber network to connect the country library to the internet; the county library, in turn, allocated space equipped with couches, chairs and a computer where veterans can access VA telehealth services. The Virtual Living Room is comfortable, private and completely accessible at no cost to veterans.
PRTC’s Virtual Living Room project was the first in the nation and encompasses what rural America is all about—helping our friends, neighbors and communities thrive. PRTC helped its local heroes access the VA telehealth services they needed and set an example for what its peer telcos have the potential to do as well. “Now that we have [Gigabit internet], we’ll continue to try to find better ways to use it and make people’s lives better in this community,” said PRTC Chief Executive Officer Keith Gabbard. “I’m very hopeful that this can be a very big thing.”
“Now that we have [Gigabit internet], we’ll continue to try to find better ways to use it and make people’s lives better in this community,”
Inspired by PRTC’s leadership, NTCA and the Foundation for Rural Service (FRS) have embarked on an ambitious program to bring VLR benefits to more communities throughout rural America. With generous funding from CoBank, FRS has established a dedicated grant program that aims to help veterans in rural communities by combining advanced medical technologies, VA resources, and rural broadband capabilities.about the VLR program and to find resources to connect with your local VA. Additional funding is available from FRS to establish VLRs in other rural communities and help improve healthcare access for our nation’s veterans.