PVA From the Top - Congressional Testimony

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2017

Who wants hurried access to questionable care in the private sector when we need timely access to quality care at the VA?

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This past March, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) held its annual Advocacy/Legislation Seminar in Arlington, Va.

The seminar allows PVA members to learn about the organization’s priorities for the year and for them to meet with congressional members. The event ends with the PVA national president testifying before a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs.

PVA National President Al Kovach Jr., testified before the committee on March 9. It’s the tradition of PN to publish this oral testimony so everyone can become aware of the organization’s legislative priorities.

The following is Kovach’s testimony:

“Chairman [Phil] Roe and members of the committee, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on behalf of the members of Paralyzed Veterans of America. We are among the most profoundly disabled, yet resilient, contingent of veteran population, and with all of the legislative priorities we have entered into the written record, none is more important to us than protecting the specialized system [of health care] at the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs].

“On behalf of all paralyzed veterans, I ask you this, are you willing to guarantee me that as a paralyzed veteran who was encouraged by you to access care in the private sector is going to receive care that is comparable to the VA?

“I’ve been relying on the VA for 26 years, which is longer than any of you have served on this committee, I am assuming. My survival was assured by the quality care that I received at the VA from the time I suffered my spinal-cord injury in 1991. And much of that is the result of the collaboration between this committee and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

“For this reason, it concerns us that too often our elected leaders have hastily generalized that private health care is superior to the VA.

“But consider this: In the 1940s, a veteran with a spinal-cord injury could only hope to live 18 months. But in the 1990s when I was injured, paralyzed veterans were told that statistically we might live to the age of 62. And now, in 2017, it’s not unusual to see paralyzed veterans reaching their 70s, which is almost consistent with the general population.

“In fact, some of the World War II veterans who founded PVA in 1946 are still living. One such survivor, Capt. James Bramwell, who I actually got to meet, is currently enjoying the recently-opened, long-term care facility at the Long Beach [Calif.] VA Spinal Cord Injury Center at the age of 98.

“I would challenge any of you to find a nationwide system of care in the private sector that can produce lifelong results such as these.  

“It’s unsettling that those of you who have the authority to determine, or at least largely influence, where I get my care, have yet to fully appreciate the reality that the VA provides more comprehensive, coordinated and outcome-driven, quality care than the private sector in many specialties such as spinal-cord injury, post-traumatic stress [disorder], traumatic brain injury, polytrauma and prosthetics.  

“This is not an abstract for us. This is our reality.

“VA is differentiated by the nationwide ‘hub and spokes’ framework and high standards defined by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, also known as CARF. CARF places emphasis on the needs of special populations by ensuring programs meet ‘patient-centered and state-of-the-art national standards for rehabilitation.’

“However, PVA has found evidence that not all rehabilitation centers in the private sector that claim to provide the gold standard of care are actually CARF-certified. 

“These findings suggest inconsistency in determining the standard of care in the private sector. For this reason, I propose that those of you who consider the uncertain private sector a better option than the VA, please explain how you arrived at such a decision without full inquiry to validate your assumptions.

“So, I also ask you: Who wants hurried access to questionable care in the private sector when we need timely access to quality care at the VA?

“Finally, crucial to the quality of veterans’ health care is its staff and clinical services. Every time I have the opportunity to testify to this committee, I have alerted you to the fact that the VA has not maintained its capacity to provide for the specialized health care needs of America’s most severely disabled veterans. 

“If you could simply enforce Public Law 114-223 that you passed last year, that requires the VA to report its capacity, you would see that the VA is woefully understaffed and beds remain empty despite the long line of veterans that are trying to get admitted to the hospitals.

“To make matters worse, the VA must think you’re asleep at the wheel because over the past seven years the VA has fallen short of its mandated staffing of bedside clinicians by operating at only 60 percent capacity.

“Furthermore, the VA continues to reduce the number of beds, and they continue to reduce clinical staff. This behavior is reckless and unacceptable. And Congress is not holding them accountable.

“Now is the right time to make a difference. Let’s not squander this opportunity with so much control over the destiny of our veterans’ health care. There is absolutely no excuse for failure. If the VA does not improve now, it will be impossible for you to escape blame.

“With approximately 100 veterans currently serving in Congress, I would hope more would want to serve on this committee, and I would hope that they would use the VA for their own care. After all, if you want to provide oversight for veteran health care, you might need a little skin in the game.

“But until then, I think I can speak for veterans when I say: We are here, reporting for duty, [to] serve our country as we continue to assist you in providing quality care for all veterans.

“Veterans don’t want any more excuses, we just want appropriate care.

“This concludes my testimony. I’ll take any questions that you may have at the appropriate time.”

To view the testimony, visit


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PVA From the Top - Congressional Testimony


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