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New program offers veterans a virtual alternative to traditional health visits

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jan 22, 2020

SLINGER — When veterans return from war it can be difficult to adjust to life back home, and not all of them seek care.

A computer program through the Veterans Affairs Medical Center may change that by delivering access to resources through to the comfort of their own home.

When Scott Leader got home from Afghanistan in 2007, he couldn’t cope with life away from war.

“I was still programmed to be looking for my M16 or freaking out at every little sound,” Leader said.

To this day, the army veteran still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’ll have a thought about something I saw in the war and it will just trigger like a shock mechanism, and then I start snowballing downhill,” Leader said.

For years, Leader has been getting care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee, but to get there he has to travel more than 30 miles from Slinger, which isn't ideal because he also suffers from vertigo.

"Sometimes when that happens I just don't drive,” Leader said.

Now, he doesn't have to. With a program called ‘telehealth,’ Leader can have a therapy session from his own home using his computer, without the anxiety of being in public.

His psychiatrist, Dr. Mike McBride said it’s transformed the way he provides care for his patients.

“They're more comfortable. They're able to talk about some of their trauma, their history, much easier,” McBride said.

McBride hopes this will bring veterans more access to mental health resources.

So far, more than 400 vets have used the Milwaukee VA’s telehealth program, just a fraction of the 15,000 who go to the VA for mental health issues.

“Our statistics are if we can get veterans to engage in care, their risk for suicide alone reduces dramatically,” McBride said.

Leader said if he didn't step in the VA, he wouldn't be here today, which is why he encourages other veterans to also take that leap of faith.

“Every time I talk to him, I come away feeling better, like a better person,” Leader said.

About 90 percent of all providers at the Milwaukee VA offer telehealth for their patients.

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