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Submission For The Record of Paralyzed Veterans of America

Chairwoman Buerkle, Ranking Member Michaud, and members of the Subcommittee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) thanks you for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record regarding the proposed legislation being considered today.  PVA appreciates the fact that you are addressing these important issues that affect the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans.  We support your effort to improve the health care and benefit services that these men and women have so honorably earned and deserve.

H.R. 1460

PVA generally supports the intent of H.R.1460, a bill that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to automatically enroll veterans returning from combat zones into the VA health care system.  This bill would also provide veterans with information on job training and educational programs that may benefit veterans as they transition back into their civilian lives.  PVA believes that automatic enrollment in the VA health care system immediately after veterans are discharged or separated from service will help make veterans more aware of the health care services, benefits, and veterans programs available to them through the VA.  However, we recognize that as a result of automatic enrollment there will be a significant increase in utilization, which will require additional resources and funding for VA facilities.  Therefore, PVA’s full support for this bill is contingent upon providing the VA with the additional resources and funding that will be necessary to meet the growth in health care demand.  

PVA also has concerns that if this legislation is enacted the current generation of veterans who are discharged or separated from military service will be granted enrollment in the VA health care system when they may not otherwise be eligible.  As written, this bill is unclear if the targeted population of veterans will be enrolled in the VA health care system in accordance with current enrollment policies; or if veterans discharged or separated from military service after the bill is enacted will be eligible to enroll regardless of restrictions that may be in place for other veterans.  PVA believes that veterans entering the VA health care system must meet the VA eligibility requirements that are in place during the time of automatic enrollment.

PVA would also like to ensure that a veteran’s decision not to enroll does not preclude him or her from enrolling in the future.  The VA must also be certain to continue its outreach to inform veterans of the many services and benefits that the VA has to offer.  Educating returning service members on the many benefits of enrollment in VA’s health care system is an essential element of veterans consistently seeking VA services. 

Lastly, PVA believes that it is imperative that this legislation recognizes and includes our mobilized National Guard and Reservists as they are demobilized from wartime service.  The period when a member of the Reserves demobilizes is an extremely hectic time and the focus of the service member is to get back home to their family.  They are no less deserving of automatic enrollment and it may be even more important as they do not have the long period of preparation often afforded to those being discharged from active service.

H.R. 3016

PVA supports H.R. 3016, legislation that would mandate both the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to jointly operate the Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP).  PVA believes that the FRCP is an excellent program and has the potential to help severely injured, ill, or wounded service members and veterans navigate through the various benefits and services for which they are eligible through the VA or DoD.  However, in order for the FRCP to succeed, both VA and DoD must take joint responsibility for its administration. 

As identified by past hearings held by the Subcommittee, communication between the VA and DoD, as well as duplication of efforts, continues to be a problem in the administration of the program.  It is for this reason that PVA believes H.R. 3016, if enacted, would not only improve communication between VA and DoD, but also encourage coordination between the two departments as veterans enter the program. 

Since the VA and DoD both have responsibility for individuals enrolled in the FRCP, PVA believes that both departments should equally share responsibility for the program.  If this bill is enacted, VA and DoD must work to ensure that the changes that will occur as a result of joint responsibility do not thwart the progress that has been mad thus far.  Administration of the program must continue to move forward in order to provide veterans with the necessary guidance and stability that is needed for them to make informed decisions in support of their full recovery and rehabilitation.

H.R. 3245, the “Efficient Service for Veterans Act”

PVA does not have a position on H.R. 3245, legislation that ensures that VA Vet Centers have access to the Defense Personnel Record Image Retrieval System and the VA/DoD Identity Repository system. 

H.R. 3279

PVA strongly supports H.R. 3279, a bill that would amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify that caregivers for veterans with either a serious illness or injury are eligible for assistance and support services provided by the VA.  PVA has over 60 years of experience understanding the complex needs of spouses, family members, friends, and personal care attendants that love and care for veterans with life-long medical conditions. PVA believes the original legislation was clearly intended to support populations of veterans that have experienced a catastrophic injury or illness. 

Additionally, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, emphasized during the roll-out of the new caregiver program that “caregivers are critical partners with VA in the recovery and comfort of ill and injured veterans.”  Unfortunately, the law is being interpreted very narrowly and thus excluding caregivers who care for veterans dealing with catastrophic illnesses.  PVA believes that this is simply unacceptable and urges the Committee to pass this legislation. 

H.R. 3337, the “Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011”

PVA supports H.R. 3337, which would require the VA to create an open burn pit registry for members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits while deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq.  This legislation would provide this population of veterans with information regarding burn pit exposures, and potentially assist VA with future research and health care initiatives. PVA believes that the burn pit registry is a first step towards ensuring that veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq receive the proper medical attention regarding exposure to toxic elements.

H.R. 3723, the “Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011”

PVA does not support H.R. 3723, the “Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Experience Act of 2011.” This bill would amend title 38, United States Code to authorize the VA to enter into contracts with health care providers in an effort to increase access to health care for veterans who have difficulty receiving treatment at a health care facility of the VA.  While access is indeed a serious concern for PVA, we believe VA is the best health care provider for veterans. 

The veterans enhanced care program as proposed in H.R. 3723 would change the veteran eligibility requirements for VA contracted care, as well as eliminate VA’s current Fee-basis care program and replace the federal statute governing contract care within the VA.  Currently, contracted care services provided through the VA are at the discretion of VA leadership; reserved for veterans who have sustained a service connected disability, or a disability for which a veteran was discharged or released from active duty; and provided when the VA is not capable of providing the needed care, or such services are geographically inaccessible.  Under H.R. 3723 VA leadership will no longer have the discretion to choose when to contract with private providers for veterans’ health care, and all veterans enrolled in the VA health care system would become eligible to receive contracted care outside of the VA.  This policy change has the potential to drastically increase the number of veterans seeking care outside of the VA, and PVA believes that providing quality care to meet the unique needs of veterans is an integral component of the VA fulfilling its mission.    

Additionally, this legislation would also expand the criteria under which the VA must provide contracted health care to include personnel and resource shortages within VA medical facilities.  PVA believes that this will only lead to the diminution of VA health care services and resources.  It is PVA’s position that the quality of VA’s health care and “veteran specific” expertise cannot be adequately duplicated in the private sector.  When VA is not capable of providing timely, quality services to veterans, it is the responsibility of VA leadership and Congress to work together to ensure that VA is able to meet veterans’ health care needs.  PVA does not believe that contracting health care services to private facilities is an appropriate enforcement mechanism for ensuring access to care.

H.R. 4079, the “Safe Housing for Homeless Veterans Act”

PVA supports H.R. 4079, legislation to amend title 38, United States Code, to require recipients of VA grants and other assistance for the provision of housing and other services for homeless veterans to comply with codes relevant to operations.  This bill will help insure the safety of facilities that offer services to homeless veterans, as well as prevent delays in construction of such facilities by requiring that all recipients of VA grants be in compliance with safety housing codes or licensing requirements.  PVA believes that H.R. 4079 is in direct alignment with Secretary Shinseki’s goal of eradicating homelessness among America’s veterans.  

Chairwoman Buerkle, Paralyzed Veterans of America appreciates this opportunity to express our views on these pieces of important legislation.  We look forward to working with the Subcommittee on these and other issues in the future.

Information Required by Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives

Pursuant to Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives, the following information is provided regarding federal grants and contracts.

Fiscal Year 2012

No federal grants or contracts received.

Fiscal Year 2011

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation — National Veterans Legal Services Program— $262,787.

Fiscal Year 2010

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program— $287,992.