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Congressional Testimony

Reprinted from PN June 2012

In testimony before joint Veterans' Affairs committees, PVA President Bill Lawson addresses VA funding and staffing shortages.

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In the March 2012 issue of PN, I wrote about giving testimony before the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees during a joint session. I also covered several issues I believe were a top priority to bring before these committees.

Having only five minutes for oral testimony, I elected to address VA funding and staffing shortages, the concerns I felt most strongly about. However, I made sure all issues were addressed in my written testimony.

Following is the oral testimony I presented:

 

Good morning, Chairman Murray, Chairman Miller and members of the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs. I’m Bill Lawson, national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. On behalf of the members, officers and staff of Paralyzed Veterans, it is an honor and a privilege to present this testimony, which highlights issues of critical importance to the well-being of veterans with spinal-cord injury or dysfunction and, in fact, all veterans.

For 66 years, Paralyzed Veterans has represented the interests of veterans with catastrophic spinal-cord injury and disease, working to ensure that their medical, economic and social needs are met. I appear here today to continue that tradition. The full range of our concerns is detailed in my written statement and in this year’s Independent Budget, of which we are a proud co-author.


With only five minutes to speak, PVA President Bill Lawson presented his major concerns but addressed other issues in his written testimony.

During the 1947 Paralyzed Veterans Convention, then president Gil Moss stated, and I quote, “We are strongly opposed to the tendency of cutting appropriations to the Veterans Administration as an economy move of government.” Unfortunately, 65 years later, we at Paralyzed Veterans still have the same concerns.

Discretionary spending in VA accounts for approximately $62 billion. Nearly 90% of that funding is directed toward VA medical care programs. VA is the best healthcare provider for veterans. Providing primary care and specialized health services is an integral component of VA’s core mission and responsibility to veterans. Across the nation, VA is a model healthcare provider that has led the way in various areas of medical research, specialized services, and healthcare technology.

However, Paralyzed Veterans is deeply concerned about steps VA has taken in recent years to generate resources to meet ever-growing demand on the VA healthcare system. In fact, the fiscal year 2012 and 2013 advance appropriation budget proposal released by the administration last year included “management improvements.” This is nothing more than a popular gimmick used by previous administrations to generate savings and offset the growing costs to deliver care.

Additionally, the 2013 Budget Request and 2014 advance appropriation recommendation includes many of the same gimmicks. Unfortunately, these savings are never realized, leaving VA short of necessary funding.

We believe continued pressure to reduce federal spending will only lead to greater reliance on gimmicks and false assumptions that generate apparent but illusory funding. This is particularly true given VA’s claim that it was provided nearly $3 billion in excess resources in 2012.  

We question how VA can make such a claim when there still remains fully seven months in this current fiscal year. This information deserves the highest level of scrutiny and oversight that your committees can provide. 

Finally, in light of the administration’s continued inability to determine its position with regard to sequestration, we have serious concerns about VA’s claims to have nearly 5% in excess resources when it faces the prospect of up to a 2% reduction in funding under the rules of sequestration. We cannot emphasize enough the need for VA to state that, without a doubt, its programs will not be cut through sequestration.

Otherwise, it is imperative that the Senate and House approve S. 2128 and H.R. 3895, respectively, to ensure that VA healthcare programs are protected from consideration for spending reductions.

Our concern for the adequacy of the VA funding, possible gimmicks and statements asserting excess resources is more than just curiosity or budgetary gamesmanship. Most notably they illustrate a real disconnect between the health care needs of our members…and available VA services.

Paralyzed Veterans’ professional medical staff compiles a monthly survey of available beds and healthcare personnel within VA’s spinal-cord injury system. These staffing reports consistently reveal deficiencies in staffing, particularly in the field of nursing. Our most recent Bed and Staffing Survey completed just last month indicates the actual number of nursing personnel delivering care at the bed side was 161 nurses below the minimum requirement.

Similarly, the survey indicated a shortage of physicians, social workers, psychologists and therapists throughout the system, resulting in a deficit of 120 acute-care beds. My question is, how can VA boast about having a $3 billion excess while at the same time the VA is severely understaffed?  This…just…doesn’t…make…sense, wouldn’t you agree?!

In closing, I would like to say on behalf of all veterans, please understand, we volunteered, we served, we fought hard and sacrificed for the freedoms we all enjoy today. Do you think it’s just reward that we return home only to find ourselves having to fight for what we were promised? 

Again, on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, I thank the committees for the opportunity to come before you today with our concerns. We look forward to working with you in providing the services and benefits America’s veterans have earned.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this testimony and sincerely hope you approve of our attempt to reach out to our congressmen.

 

In closing, I once again ask that you take a brief moment out of your day and visit a hospitalized veteran today

 

To order the June 2012 PN, Click Here.
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