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Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veteran Affairs

Opening Statement of the Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
U.S. House of Representatives

Subcommittee on Health Hearing

“Between Peril and Promise:  Facing the Dangers of VA’s Skyrocketing Use of
Prescription Painkillers to Treat Veterans”

October 10, 2013

            Thank you Dr. Benishek for holding this critical hearing to examine the Department of Veterans affairs (VA) skyrocketing use of prescription painkillers to care for veterans with acute and chronic pain.

            Many of our service members are returning home from the battlefield with serious injuries and acute pain, and as they transition to veteran status, the pain often lingers and leads to chronic pain.

For these veterans, the pain level, not the veteran, sets the agenda for the day, sets the tone for their families, and keeps the veteran from fully participating in the life he or she once had.

Yet, when these veterans reach out and entrust the VA to relieve their pain, the treatment they often receive is the system wide default prescribing of prescription painkillers.

According to a CBS News report, based on VA data, over the past eleven years the number of patients treated by the VA is up twenty nine percent, while narcotic prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners are up two hundred and fifty nine percent.

The rapid rise in VA’s use of prescription painkillers corresponds with data that indicates VA patients are dying of narcotic overdoses at twice the national average.

This is heart wrenching proof that VA’s approach to pain management is failing and in need of an immediate overhaul. 

These powerful prescriptions are not a cure-all and must not be doled out like a magic pill to fix chronic pain. 

Veterans depend upon VA to uphold its mission of restoring the health of those who have borne the burdens of battle. 

But instead of helping them manage their battles with pain in a healthy manner, VA has opted instead to use treatment that has the power to destroy, rather than restore their lives.

VA can and must change course and act now to reduce their reliance on the use of prescription painkillers.

We know there are pain care specialists who understand the complexities of treating these conditions, and VA must make them accessible to help veterans manage their pain without the disturbing risks of the long term use of prescription painkillers.     

VA providers should be required to adhere to evidence-based prescription guidelines and be held accountable when those guidelines are not followed.

The veteran patient and their loved ones must be listened to, followed closely, and supported with a treatment plan that can best help them regain happy, healthy lives.

Anything less is unacceptable.