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Opening Statement of The Honorable Julia Brownley, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Health

Good morning.  Today’s hearing is intended to follow-up on various oversight hearings and roundtables held during the first session of the 113th Congress and to assess the progress that the Department has made in addressing the issues. 

The Subcommittee will also determine whether appropriate steps have been taken by VA to ensure accountability, and identify what further actions may be necessary in response to Subcommittee oversight.

Last session, this Subcommittee held oversight hearings on physician staffing standards, care and treatment for military sexual trauma survivors, and VA’s over-use of prescription painkillers to treat veterans with chronic pain. 

In addition to the oversight hearings, two roundtables were held, one focusing on procurement reform and access to care and one on billing and collecting from third-party health insurance companies for nonservice-connected care. 

There were many issues raised during these hearings and roundtables.  Issues such as a developing a plan to establish productivity standards for all specialty care services within three years, decreasing the amount of time it takes to procure large medical equipment through the National Acquisition Center, assessing the Department’s programs for veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma, and ensuring the effective use of opioid therapy for patients with chronic pain.

Mr. Chairman, these are but a few of the concerns that were brought up during testimony and conversations we had with the witnesses and participants during the forums.

While we have a lot of ground to cover today, I am especially interested in hearing from the VA on improvements made in the MST program and in procurement reform.

At the MST hearing held last session, we heard first hand the experiences of veterans who have found the system unfriendly and intimidating.

According to the VA, fiscal year 2013 saw an increase of 9.3 percent in rates of engagement of MST-related care at VHA.  Additionally, VA reports an increase of 14.6 percent in MST-related visits in fiscal year 2013.  I would like to hear from VA how they are addressing this increase.

I am sure we all agree that it is critical that Congress do all that we can to make it easier for victims of MST to access needed benefits and services, and receive treatment. 

Compassion and care are a significant part of healing those that have been sexually assaulted.

Turning now to procurement reform, Mr. Chairman, last session we held a roundtable and during that roundtable discussion, we heard about the long delays, some for up to two years, in the delivery of medical equipment.

While I understand that VA is streamlining the procurement process to decrease the amount of time it takes to procure large medical equipment through the National Acquisition Center, I do not feel confident that much progress has been made in that area.

Stakeholders continue to report increased difficulties accessing needed prosthetic equipment through VA and significant delays in contract awards at the National Acquisition Center.

I find this very frustrating and unnecessary.  I hope VA has good news on this front today. 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today and I want to thank everyone in attendance.  There is obvious concern for veterans and VA’s ability to meet their health care needs. 

Thank you Mr. Chairman and I yield back the balance of my time.