The Montana Veterans Administration healthcare system is ramping up face-to-face visits starting on Monday after COVID 19 prompted virtual appointments.

Director Dr. Judy Hayman explained the progress that Montana’s VA Health System has made to be picked to lead the region in reopening face to face patient visits.

“Montana was selected because in following the White House and Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines, we met selection criteria, such as a downward trajectory in COVID 19 or influenza-like illness cases,” said Dr. Hayman. “This also included the ability to test anyone who is suspected of having the virus, as well as being able to have the capacity to treat veterans should there be a surge in cases.”

Chief of Staff Dr. JP Maganito said the Montana VA garnered other accolades.

“Some of the precautions that we’ve done are that we were actually the first in the state to do pre-screening questions as you enter into any of our facilities,” said Dr. Maganito. “This not only helped us protect our veterans, but also protect our employees that we have maintained in our clinics. On top of that, we have also implemented a universal face covering to make sure that those who are asymptomatic will be able to get masked and mitigate any risk of getting the COVID.”

Dr. Maganito said the Montana VA system has led the way in non-contact healthcare appointments, enabling the VA to treat hundreds of patients who didn’t have to travel to Fort Harrison in Helena.

“We’ve increased by 364 percent our VA Video-Connect services,” he said. “Our telephone appointment usage has gone up by 32 percent, and the 1,700 individual calls to veterans were made so that we could be proactive in treating our patients, as well. Furthermore, and I think we’re all proud of this, our trust scores with veterans have been at an all time high. Historically speaking, they’re the highest they’ve ever been.”

Dr. Hayman added that the VA is for veterans only.

“Veterans are our priority,” she said. “They have priority within our system. In the private sector they may be in the queue with other people who have been waiting for care, but most likely we will be able to see then sooner that in the private sector.”

Veterans who have questions about accessing MTVAHCS health care should call the nurse advice line at 1-877-468-8387 (and press option 3).