An Early Start on Veterans Day

By Joshua Seidemann, Vice President of Policy, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

October 19, 2018

I got an early start on Veterans Day last week when I joined a meeting of the Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee (VRHAC). The VRHAC is charged with advising the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on challenges veterans face in obtaining health care. My remarks were focused on where NTCA members serve and their broadband deployment numbers, as well as the Virtual Living RoomSM telehealth pilot that NTCA helped launch last year in McKee, Kentucky. The meeting came two days before NTCA filed comments in response to an FCC inquiry regarding broadband usage among veterans. 

PRTC staff and members of the VA at the ribbon-cutting for the Virtual Living Room.

In our comments, NTCA described the need for broadband-enabled health care and educational resources for veterans. These include telehealth applications and online resources that aid in job searches and employment. According to Pew Research, a majority of adults in the United States (54%) have searched for jobs online and 45% have applied for a job online. Further, among Americans who looked for work between  2013 and 2015, 79% cited use of online resources and information.

The telehealth gains uncovered by the VA are notable, as well: across all VA telehealth programming (including management and treatment of diabetes, congestive heart failure, hypertension, COPD and emotional health issues), VA telehealth is associated with a 25% reduction in bed days of care and a 19% reduction in hospital admissions. On average, these and other savings added up to $6,500 per patient in 2012.

FCC proceedings typically include an opportunity to file initial comments, followed by "reply comments" which can be used to reply and generally rebut opposing positions. When asked whether NTCA would be filing reply comments in this proceeding, the quick answer was a rhetorical, "Do we think anyone will file in opposition to expanding broadband use for veterans?"

And, indeed, a review of comments in the docket reveals thoughtful proposals, from ways to ensure that veterans with disability ratings can obtain access to corporate programs aimed at tapping into veterans' expertise.

It seems that a lot of people in Washington got an early start on Veterans Day last week.