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Trump touts new program to improve veterans' health care

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced new efforts Thursday to use technology to improve veterans’ health care, saying the programs will greatly expand access, especially for mental health care and suicide prevention. Veterans living in rural areas will also benefit, he said.

Initiatives include using video technology and diagnostic tools to conduct medical exams. Veterans also will be able to use mobile devices to make and manage appointments with Veterans Administration doctors.

“We call it ‘anywhere to anywhere’ VA health care,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said. Shulkin said the goal is better health care for veterans wherever they are. He said existing “telehealth” programs provided care to more than 700,000 veterans last year.

A medical doctor, Shulkin wore his white coat to the White House announcement, during which he demonstrated the technologies for Trump.

"VA Video Connect allows VA providers to use mobile devices to connect with veterans on their mobile devices or their home computers," Shulkin said. "That's a big deal."

To demonstrate the new technology, Shulkin used VA Video Connect to examine a Grants Pass veteran, Albie Amescua, who had a concern about a skin problem on his hand. Amescua served in the Coast Guard for 26 years, including as a helicopter rescue swimmer. 

Trump said, “This will significantly expand access to care for our veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health, which is a bigger and bigger request, and also in suicide prevention. It will make a tremendous difference for the veterans in rural locations in particular.”

A regulation will need to be issued for these services to be provided anywhere in the country.

Shulkin was the VA’s undersecretary for health in the final years of the Obama administration.

Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, talks with Grants Pass veteran Albie Amescua during a Veterans Affairs telehealth event Thursday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. [AP Photo/Evan Vucci]