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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

More soldiers of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are surviving battle injuries than in any previous wars.  They are coming home in part because of better vehicle and body armor and because of the intense and rapid medical care being provided on the front lines. 

When they come home, because a majority of these battle injuries are blast-related, the nature and extent of their injuries can be quite severe and complex.  They may be physical and mental and require a wide range of medical treatments and rehabilitation.

Congress recognized that the frequency and unique nature of these new emerging polytrauma/blast injuries requires an interdisciplinary program to handle the medical, psychological, rehabilitation, and prosthetic needs of the injured servicemember.  Public Law 108-422 required VA to establish an appropriate number of centers for research, education, and clinical activities to improve and coordinate rehabilitative services for veterans suffering from complex multi-trauma from combat injuries and to coordinate these services with the Department of Defense.  This law resulted in what is now known as VA’s Polytrauma System of Care.    

Critical to these wounded soldiers getting the care they need is the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to work together.  And, I can hardly put into words the level of frustration I feel when I read media reports about obstacles individual patients have encountered because of the bureaucracy and gaps that still challenge the two departments to make the healthcare transfer seamless. 

These injured servicemembers and their families are relying on the ability of the VA to provide a full continuum of first class care and support for their complete recovery - from inpatient services at the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, to outpatient rehabilitation to long-term care services in their home communities. 

Last week, Secretary Nicholson directed a number of changes to improve the way VA provides care to our newest combat veterans.  This includes: screening all OEF/OIF combat patients for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD; providing each Polytrauma patient with an advocate to assist them and their family; mandatory training for all VA health care personnel to recognize and care for patients with TBI; and establishing an outside panel of clinical experts to review the VA Polytrauma system of care.

These actions are commendable and necessary.  However, despite past Congressional directive, there are still significant collaborative actions that DOD and VA have failed to implement including: real-time, fully interoperable electronic medical records; a single separation physical; and the systematic sharing of reliable identifying medical data for VA to know when seriously injured servicemembers are medically stabilized, when they may be undergoing evaluation for a medical discharge and when they are discharged from the military.    

I want to thank all of the witnesses for appearing at this hearing today.  Your testimony is important and in the end will lead to more consistent, comprehensive and compassionate care for our Nation’s veterans.  It is our job to see that we get it right and we do not fail those who have sacrificed so much for our country.