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Opening Statement of Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arizona

We are here today to hear from veterans, their families, and the Department of Veterans Affairs about the long-term care of our most severely wounded Afghanistan and Iraq veterans.  We know that DoD and VA provide the excellent inpatient healthcare for these warriors.  But many of the most seriously injured require extensive outpatient care, some of them for life.  Their families need care and assistance as well.  Unfortunately, once these veterans leave the hospital, the care they receive does not seem to be on par with what they received directly following their injury.  I think we can do better.

Planning for veterans’ healthcare was not planned very well at the outset of this war.  The need to provide care and assistance to wounded service members, and their families, in significant number and for the long term has been largely ignored.  We will hear today what it has been like for some of them.  Their stories are inspiring but also discouraging.  They are inspiring because – even after they have suffered terrible injuries – they carry no bitterness, only pride from their service.  Discouraging because they have been left to fend for themselves for too long.

The Department of Defense and the VA are large organizations with an overwhelming bureaucracy.  Their care and services often overlap in messy and unpredictable ways.  At a time of enormous stress, this bureaucracy only hurts the injured warrior and his family 

When our troops return from theater with serious injuries, they are met with a dozen seemingly unrelated people with different services.  We addressed much of these problems last year with the passage of the Dignity for Wounded Warriors bill. But there is obviously still more to be done.

We need to realize that families are an integral part of treatment and recovery, and have their own needs. Unfortunately, the VA is restricted from providing the many services families need and deserve when their sons, daughters, siblings, and parents return with service-connected injuries.

We have been playing catch-up since the beginning of this war.  It is irresponsible that the only support structure available to the 19 year old wife of an injured soldier is the wife of a similarly injured soldier. 

We are going to hear from people that have been dealing with the difficulties of the system for a long time.  On February 14, 2004 Army Sergeant Ted Wade lost his right arm and suffered severed traumatic brain injury, along with many other injuries, in an IED explosion in Iraq.  Sgt. Wade is here today with his wife, Sarah. 

Marine Corporal Casey Owens of Houston, Texas lost both his legs when his unarmored Humveee struck a landmine in Iraq on September 20, 2004.  Corporal Owens and Mrs. Wade will tell us about the frustrations and difficulties they have faced, and we look forward to their testimony. 

Sarah and Ted Wade have devoted themselves to helping hundreds of other injured service members and their families.  And just two weeks after he was injured, Casey Owens told his family that he wanted a camcorder so he could document his progress from start to finish.  He could only communicate by writing at the time of his request. He wanted to show his future children how far he had come and how good he’d had it. 

Today, you can find Casey gliding down the slopes at Aspen.  We owe Corporal Owens and Sergeant Wade a great debt.  We cannot repay that debt, but we can make sure that Corporal Owens and Sergeant Wade, their families, and everyone like them, get long-term care and services that are also world class.