Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida (STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate your holding this hearing to review the 25 recommendations made by the President’s Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes.
We, as a grateful nation, depend on the members of our Armed Forces to defend our freedom. Similarly, these brave men and women and their families rely too on their government to deliver the benefits and services they have earned in an effective and forthright manner.
I want to commend the President for his leadership in establishing this Task Force. I also want to thank Secretary Nicholson and the members of the Task Force for their swift and decisive action in undertaking this critical review of how we are providing services to our returning Global War on Terror (GWOT) servicemembers.
As a Member of both the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, we have been examining a number of the issues put forth by the recommendations of the Task Force for several years. As Ranking Member of this Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, I am particularly interested in the 11 recommendations geared toward the provision of health services to those who serve and have served in the GWOT.
In March, the Health Subcommittee held a hearing to review how the needs of the veterans suffering TBI are being met. Our review found that there are significant barriers between the care provided between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). In response, I joined as an original cosponsor of H.R. 1944, the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act of 2007. The bill, among other provisions, would require the screening of all veterans for TBI, establish a comprehensive program of long-term care for post-acute TBI in four geographic regions, and create TBI transition offices. It is encouraging to note that several of the Task Force recommendations support the requirements in this legislation.
The Task Force also recommended that VA and DOD, in coordination with HHS expand collaboration and work with Community Health Centers to improve health services provided to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) servicemembers who live in rural areas. With about forty one percent of our returning OEF/OIF veterans hailing from rural settings.
The target date provided by the Task Force for establishing a working group between VA, DOD, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was April 30, 2007. This recommendation included that VA, DOD, and HHS would formalize an agreement to determine the needs of OIF/OEF returnees to interact with the CHCs and other HHS supported providers. While I understand that this initiative was tasked to HHS, I hope VA and DOD are tracking these recommendations and encouraging timely action.
VA and DOD are to develop a standard system of co-management and case management. VA and DOD were to have a draft Memorandum of Agreement and complete a charter to standardize processes between the two agencies in regards to case management by April 30, 2007.
Additionally, the Task Force recommended that DOD improve VA access to Health Records of Servicemembers treated in VA facilities. VA and DOD have had the authority to share since 1982, with the enactment of Public Law 97-174, the VA/DOD Health Resources Sharing and Emergency Operations Act. In 2003, Public Law 108-136 created the Joint Executive Committee, an interagency committee to enhance the sharing between the two Departments. While some progress has been made, I am still disturbed by the sufficient lack of progress that remains.
Both DOD and VA should take notice that we will no longer accept business as usual. Missed deadlines are simply unacceptable. We expect both departments to own up to the problems and take immediate action to implement the recommendations of the Task Force. I intend, as I am sure everyone will agree, to continue monitoring both the actions of VA and DOD to ensure that no servicemember “slips through a crack”.