Registered nurse April Branstetter, left, and U.S. Air Force veteran Brianna Brown participate in a video conference Tuesday with representatives at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Denver Regional Office. On Tuesday, the VA introduced its new telebenefits program, which allows rural veterans to speak to benefit counselors on issues such as pensions, disability claims, survivor benefits, burial benefits, home loans, education benefits and more.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Registered nurse April Branstetter, left, and U.S. Air Force veteran Brianna Brown participate in a video conference Tuesday with representatives at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Denver Regional Office. On Tuesday, the VA introduced its new telebenefits program, which allows rural veterans to speak to benefit counselors on issues such as pensions, disability claims, survivor benefits, burial benefits, home loans, education benefits and more.

Craig Veterans Telehealth Clinic introduces new telebenefits program

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Northwest Colorado veterans wishing to schedule a telebenefits appointment may call the Craig Veterans Telehealth Clinic at 824-6721. The clinic is now located in suite 400 at 785 Russell St.

Thousands of Western Slope veterans aren’t seeking out the health benefits their sacrifices entitle them to receive, said April Branstetter, a registered nurse at the Craig Veterans Telehealth Clinic.

On Tuesday, the clinic kicked off a program to help address the issue.

“This might help raise awareness,” said Branstetter, of the new telebenefits program. “We’re trying to get to all these 8,000 veterans that aren’t capturing the services that they need or that they’re entitled to.”

Telebenefits is a pilot program meant to connect rural Colorado veterans with benefit counselors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Denver Regional Office.

According to a news release from the VA, the telebenefits program allows veterans at telehealth clinics in Craig, Glenwood Springs, Montrose and Grand Junction to speak to counselors through a secure video conferencing system.

The system uses the same high-definition video and audio technology that allows veterans to meet with VA physicians.

Veterans can use the service to discuss issues concerning pensions, disability claims, survivor benefits, burial benefits, home loans, education benefits and more.

Brianna Brown, formerly of the U.S. Air Force, was the first person to use the service Tuesday from the Craig clinic, now located in suite 400 at 785 Russell St.

Brown, a Baggs, Wyo., resident, served in the Air Force from June 2002 to June 2005. She was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, and Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

On Tuesday, she sat in the Craig clinic and posed questions about the G.I. Bill and dependent benefits to a video camera.

Three VA representatives at the Denver Regional Office responded to Brown through a high-definition television screen.

After fielding Brown’s questions, service representative Susan Parks had a question of her own for Brown.

“You’ve done the doctors’ visits before, but do you think this (program) would be helpful?” Parks asked.

Brown said she did.

“I think it’s a lot more personal than over the phone, or through e-mail, or trying to do the research yourself,” she said.

In a news release Tuesday, U.S. Senator Mark Udall said the Colorado program is the first in the nation to use telehealth technology to address VA benefit issues.

“I am pleased to see a state-of-the-art solution to an access issue facing many veterans in rural regions of Colorado,” Udall said. “This collaboration between my office, the VA and the community demonstrates that, when we work together, the resulting innovative solutions can also be common sense ones.

“I believe this program has the potential to make a huge impact on the way we deliver services to our veterans, and I plan to encourage VA Secretary (Eric) Shinseki to use this program as a model to help veterans across the country.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet also issued a statement Tuesday.

“Our veterans have served our country honorably, and they have our endless gratitude for their dedication and sacrifices,” Bennet said. “We, in turn, have an obligation to ensure that they have access to the benefits they have earned.

“This program will ensure that veterans in rural communities can have direct contact with benefits counselors without the expense and difficulty of travel.”

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