Opening Statement of Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arizona
Thank you all for coming today. I am pleased that so many people could attend this oversight hearing on sharing of electronic medical information between the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs. This is a critically important issue. Thousands of our service men and women require and will continue to require significant medical care as the result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most seriously injured of our OEF and OIF veterans may need a lifetime of care, but even veterans returning with no visible injury may need assistance with PTSD or mild traumatic brain injury.
DOD and VA are sharing more and more patients. For example, the patients at the VA’s four polytrauma rehabilitation centers are almost all still on active duty. And active duty service members will be veterans sooner or later. A review by the VA’s Inspector General of the 500,000 or so service members who left active duty in fiscal year 2005 shows that 92 percent had an encounter with the military health system while on active duty that resulted in a diagnostic code. In other words, nearly all of the veterans who go to the VA to get medical care will have military medical records that should be available to VA health care providers.
If anyone can convince the American people of the importance of electronic medical records, it is our first panel. Specialist Channing Moss is an Army soldier who was shot with a rocket propelled grenade that lodged in his body. He is alive and walking today because the medical evacuation team and combat surgeons who operated on him put their own lives in danger in order to remove live ordnance from Specialist Moss. Brigadier General Douglas Robb was chief surgeon of CENTCOM at the time, and he will discuss how important it was that a copy of the x-ray taken at the forward field hospital was available to the clinicians in Landstuhl before Specialist Moss arrived.
DOD and VA have been working on the electronic exchange of medical information for many years. For most of that time, the story is not a happy one. I am nevertheless pleased to be able to say that DOD and VA have made more progress in the past 12 to 18 months than they made in the preceding decade. But there is still much to be done. There is no reason why, in this day and age, DOD and VA cannot electronically share the information necessary to treat our service members and veterans. We should not have to wait any longer. I hope and I expect that DOD and VA will tell us today that, by no more than a year from now, clinicians in DOD and VA will have full electronic access to the medical information they need to treat their patients, whether that information resides in computers owned by DOD or by VA.