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Congressional Testimony

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2014

PVA's oral testimony to the House of Representatives and Senate Veteran Affairs Committee at the annual Advocacy/Legislation Seminar in Washington, D.C.

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This past March, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) held its annual Advocacy/Legislation Seminar in Washington, D.C. During this seminar, PVA is afforded the opportunity to give oral testimony to the House of Representatives and Senate Veteran Affairs Committee.

It has been the tradition to publish this oral testimony in PN in order that our membership and others in the community can become aware of our legislative priorities for the year. The following is that testimony:

“Chairman Sanders, Chairman Miller and members of the committees, I appreciate the opportunity to present the legislative priorities for 2014 of Paralyzed Veterans of America. Since our founding in 1947, Paralyzed Veterans has developed a worthy record of accomplishment. We are the only Congressionally chartered veterans’ service organization dedicated solely to the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal-cord injury or disease.

As Congress and the administration continue to face pressure to reduce federal spending, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of ensuring that sufficient, timely and predictable funding is provided to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While we appreciate the increases offered by the Administration’s budget for FY 2015 and the FY 2016 advance appropriations, particularly with regards to healthcare and benefits services, we have real concerns that the serious lack of commitment to infrastructure funding to support the system will undermine the VA’s ability to deliver those services.

Once again this past year, Congress failed to fully complete the appropriations process. In fact, many federal operations were shuttered as part of a partial government shutdown in October 2013. Paralyzed Veterans is concerned that this continues to have a significant negative impact on many of the services provided by the VA. While VA healthcare was shielded from this political disaster, benefits services, research activities and general operations for the rest of the VA were impacted. With this in mind, we call on Congress to immediately pass the ‘Putting Veterans Funding First Act.’ We appreciate the fact that the House has already approved the legislation and we call on the Senate to do the same.

We are also here today to ask that legislation be enacted to open the Comprehensive Caregiver Assistance program to all veterans. The VA only offers this comprehensive caregiver program to veterans with a service-connected injury that was incurred after Sept. 11, 2001. The majority of Paralyzed Veterans members are excluded from these VA caregiver benefits because of the selection of the Sept. 11, 2001, date and because the law also excludes veterans with serious illnesses or diseases such as ALS and MS, both of which eventually leave veterans dependent upon caregivers. No reasonable justification can be provided as to why pre-9/11 veterans with a service-connected injury or illness should be excluded from the caregiver program. It is time for the committees to step up andget this done.

Next, I bring your attention to changes in VA’s prosthetics program and the need for greater oversight of a new VHA (Veterans Health Administration) policy that essentially turned a five-day ordering process into one that can now take months or longer in cases involving life-critical devices like customized limbs and wheelchairs costing over the micropurchase threshold of $3,000. With that in mind, I would direct your attention to the chart (p. 9) that illustrates the change.

The chart reflects the implementation of the so-called ‘warrant transition,’ where the purchase authority of prosthetics staff who dealt directly with severely disabled veterans was completely shifted to contracting specialists located off-site. The peach-colored boxes show the additional steps now required when an order is sent to contracting where the green and blue boxes once fulfilled the process.

Lengthening the process for delivering prosthetics to veterans with the greatest need — the 3% who rely entirely on customized prosthetics and happen to be 100% of our membership — is unconscionable. This practice ultimately costs VA more in terms of unnecessarily long hospital stays and lost quality of life for veterans. Incidentally, this ‘new’ standard was the very same one that made Simplified Acquisition Procedures and the title 38 United States Code, Section 8123 statute necessary.

When veterans are forced to bear the excruciating wait for independence that prosthetics offer due to red tape, the country’s reputation suffers. George Washington declared, ‘A nation is judged by how well it treats its veterans.’ We declare today that this Congress and VA will be judged by the independence — or lack thereof — enjoyed by veterans who rely on VA prosthetics to live.

Paralyzed Veterans of America appreciates the opportunity to pre­sent our views. We look forward to working with the committees to ensure that resources are made available to the VA so that eligible veterans can receive the health care and benefits that they have earned and deserve.

Thank you again. I would welcome any questions that you may have.”

Once again, let me remind you to make time to visit a hospitalized veteran. Don’t forget those living in nursing homes, too!

 

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