Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Ginny Brown-Waite, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, I believe the title of this hearing is very appropriate. When we talk about our wounded warriors from the Global War on Terrorism, the quest for excellence should be of utmost importance.
Our committee staff recently visited several Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers located in Richmond, Virginia, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Palo Alto, California. They did this to provide oversight on the level of care being provided to our wounded servicemembers at those units. Last Congress, while serving as Chairman of this Committee, Ranking Member Buyer followed injured servicemembers from a combat support hospital in Iraq through Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany, and on to Walter Reed and Bethesda. Mr. Buyer has also visited the Minneapolis PRC to evaluate care and services received by our most critically injured servicemembers.
What I still see today is of great concern. The tracking of medical records still includes the paperwork and hard copies of medical records accompanying the servicemembers as they transfer stateside and ultimately to the VA. The Committee hears that not all the critical medical information is being forwarded to the Polytrauma units by the Department of Defense, and many of the VA facilities are not using or have never heard of the Joint Patient Tracking Application and the Veteran Tracking Application systems.
At the PRC unit in Palo Alto, our staff found several issues relating to lack of staffing and resources. This same concern was detailed in the draft OMI report obtained by our staff prior to their visit to Palo Alto. I would like to have the witnesses address this deficiency in care to the servicemembers and veterans who are being treated in this facility, and am interested in learning how widespread this problem is.
During the staff visit to the PRC unit in Minneapolis, the Committee learned about the unusually high turnover rate of the active duty officers’ military liaison. I am concerned about how this turnover rate affects the continuity of care for our severely injured servicemembers. PRC staff told us that there were also no electronic transfer of records between the DoD and the PRC in Minneapolis. I am interested in learning what is being done to address this situation. I know that some of our PRCs are doing a great job, while it seems that others are still having great difficulties. How are best practices being shared between PRCs to provide the best possible care for our severely wounded servicemembers and veterans?
Mr. Chairman, I am quite concerned about the care our wounded servicemembers are receiving as they move from the battlefield through the line of care to our VA facilities. As I have stated in the past, the hand-off between DoD and VA should be seamless and transparent to the servicemembers and their families receiving care and treatment…not a fumble. Repeatedly, the committee has heard that many of these transfers require multiple phone calls, emails, faxes, and videoconferencing. Our veterans must have this seamless transition to maintain a continuum of care between the two departments. Committee members have been fighting this recurring battle on the home front for our servicemembers and veterans.
Mr. Chairman, Congress’ responsibility to these men and women in uniform does not end with their care at the PRC units. As the Oversight Committee, we must also ensure that they have a seamless transition from active duty to civilian/veteran status.
I cannot stress enough the importance of working towards a standard Benefits Delivery upon Discharge (BDD) documentation. A standard BDD would include one physical to be shared between the DoD and the VA, providing servicemembers with documentation as to the benefits for which they may be eligible. With the use of a standard shared BDD, we could conceivably have the claims backlog at the VA caught up in just a few years. This program was successfully tested between DoD and VA from 1995-1997. It is also a strong recommendation for the President’s Dole-Shalala Commission report.
Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how VA is working with the DoD to improve care for our nation’s heroes.