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Legislative Priorities

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2013

Testimony before a congressional committee spells out issues and concerns of veterans.

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For the past two years I made the decision to have my oral testimony to the Joint Committees for Veterans Affairs published as my article. This year is no different. The following is the testimony I presented on March 6:

 

I appreciate the opportunity to present the legislative priorities for 2013 of Paralyzed Veterans of America.

It is important to note that funding issues and ongoing concerns with the claims process generally supersede lesser issues.

That being said, I will limit my remarks today to some specific issues that impact Paralyzed Veterans members.

We have developed long-standing partnerships with other veterans’ service organizations and are proud to have recently released the 27th edition of  The Independent Budget.

For details on funding recommendations for VA programs and specifically for veterans’ healthcare, I would encourage you and your staffs to review the FY 2014 IB.

We cannot emphasize enough the importance of ensuring that sufficient, timely and predictable funding is provided to the VA.

We anxiously await the budget submission to be released by the administration that will include funding recommendations for VA programs for FY 2014 and the advance appropriation recommendation for FY 2015. 

Once again this year, Congress failed to fully complete the appropriations process, instead choosing to fund the federal government through a six-month continuing resolution. This business as usual — for funding the federal government — is simply unacceptable.

For two fiscal years in a row, the administration’s recommended funding levels were not changed in any appreciable way and Congress simply signed off on those recommendations, without thorough analysis.

As Congress completes work on appropriations for this year, I cannot emphasize enough that sufficient funding must be provided for VA programs.

The VA’s specialized services are incomparable resources that often cannot be duplicated in the private sector. 

However, these services are often expensive and are severely threatened by cost-cutting measures and the drive toward achieving
management efficiencies.

Paralyzed Veterans strongly believes that VA remains the best option available for veterans seeking healthcare services. Specialized services, such as spinal-cord-injury care, which paralyzed veterans require, are part of the core mission and responsibility of the VA.

These services were initially developed to care for the unique healthcare needs of veterans. The provision of specialized services is vital to maintaining a viable VA healthcare system.

With growing pressure to allow veterans to seek care outside of the VA, the VA faces the distinct possibility that the critical mass of patients needed to keep all services viable could significantly decline. If primary care services decline, then specialized care is also diminished. 

Paralyzed Veterans is very concerned with the recent changes that have been made to the VA Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service. These changes have resulted in delayed delivery of prosthetic devices, diminishing of quality service delivery for disabled veterans, and prolonged hospital stays for veterans waiting for prosthetic equipment. We have heard complaints from many of our members who have been negatively impacted by this change.

One Paralyzed Veterans member was forced to spend nearly a month longer in the hospital just because he had to wait for approval of some adaptive housing modifications. Leaving him in the hospital put him at higher risk of contracting other illnesses. This is not an isolated case. 

It is time for the committees to take an active role in the oversight of these prosthetics changes. Some VISNs are trying to make these changes work to best benefit veterans, through local initiative and freelancing.

It should be troubling to everyone here that there is not a national standard in place to ensure that this program works the way it is supposed to work.

In the end, many of the concerns that I have raised reflect the belief that this is not “One VA.” While our ears hear “One VA,” our eyes and our experiences show us 21 individual VA systems masquerading as Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs).

The VISN model of healthcare was intended to create strategic alliances among VA medical centers, clinics and other sites; sharing agreements with other government providers; and other such relationships.

Instead, we see these VISNs being run like autonomous entities in a fragmented system, with inconsistent policies and budgetary turf battles that leave many veterans faced with delayed or denied access to care or prosthetics items.  

In fact, Paralyzed Veterans service officers had to intervene when one of our members — a 94-year-old paralyzed Marine who fought in World War II — endured a longer in-patient stay because two VISNs could not decide which VISN would pay for his Hoyer lift and commode chair he needs to live independently.

In the “One VA” world, it is not his burden. But in this real instance, he was the unfortunate one caught in the middle of two independently operating VISNs, thus defying any notion of there being “One VA.” 

On balance, VA is fortunate to have good people who still adhere to the principle that veterans come before cost considerations and policies.

Even in times of national economic difficulty and profound organizational transformation, our nation’s security is still preserved by the men and women who take the oath and believe in the country’s promise to care for him or her should they suffer injury or disease.

But until we have 21 VISNs that operate with a common purpose, under common policies, variability between VISNs will create even more gaps in which the most vulnerable veterans will fall. We hear “One VA.” Now show us “One VA.”

Chairmen Miller and Sanders, I would like to thank you once again for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer any questions you have.

 

As always please remember to take time to visit a hospitalized veteran today. That includes those in nursing homes. 

 

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