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Opening Statement of Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Health

The Subcommittee will come to order.

Good morning and welcome to today’s Subcommittee on Health Hearing, “Optimizing Care for Veterans with Prosthetics.”

Our nation’s commitment to restoring the capabilities of disabled veterans struggling with devastating combat wounds resulting in loss of limb began with the Civil War. 

Restoring these veterans to wholeness was a core impetus behind the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs then and it continues to play a vital role in the Department’s mission now.

Prosthetic technology and VA care have come a long way from the Civil War era wooden peg legs and simple hooks.  Following World War II, in 1945, veterans dissatisfied with the quality of VA prosthetic care stormed the Capitol in protest.  Congress responded by providing VA with increased flexibility for prosthetic operations and launching federal research into the development of new mobility and assistive devices.  

With these reforms, VA led the way in prosthetic care and research, guided by dedicated professionals both inside and outside the Department who worked tirelessly to provide veterans with the quality care they earned and deserved. 

As a result, the model of VA care for today’s veteran amputees include leading edge artificial limbs and improved services to help them regain mobility and achieve maximum independence. 

Still, the magnitude of the heartbreaking injuries sustained by servicemembers and veterans returning home from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan find VA struggling to keep pace with the rising demands of younger and more active veterans with amputations.

Prosthetic care is unlike any other care provided by the Department.

Prosthetic devices, particularly prosthetic limbs, quite literally become a part of their owner, requiring the integration of body, mind, and machine.  

The goal is not just to teach amputees to walk or use an artificial arm and hand, but to provide multi-disciplinary continuing care to maintain long-term and life-time functioning and quality of life.

Which is why I am troubled by the Department’s proposed changes to prosthetic procurement policies and procedures. The forthcoming reforms will, among other things, take prosthetics purchasing authority from prosthetic providers and transfer them to contracting officers.

This is alarming to me and - as we will hear soon – it is also alarming to many of today’s witnesses.   I would like to read a quote from Capt. Jonathan Pruden, a wounded warrior himself, who states in his testimony that:

“We see no prospect that this planned change in prosthetics procurement holds any promise for improving service to the warrior. Instead, it almost certainly threatens greater delay in VA’s ability to provide severely wounded warriors needed prosthetics devices….[and]…heightens the risk that a fiscal judgment will override a clinical one…”

We cannot allow that to happen and this morning we look to the Department for assurance it won’t happen.

It is nothing short of inspiring to see how far modern technology and – most importantly - the spirit, courage, and resolve of our veterans themselves has come in restoring mobility, dignity, and hope to our nation’s heroes.

It is vital that we set VA prosthetic care on a course that matches the courage and bravery of the men and women who serve our nation in uniform.

Again, I thank you all for joining us this afternoon. I now recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. Michaud [ME-SHOW] for any remarks he may have.