Witness Testimony of Alex Nicholson, Legislative Director Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Chairman Benishek, Ranking Member Brownley, and Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee:
On behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), I would like to extend our gratitude for being given the opportunity to share with you our views and recommendations regarding these important pieces of legislation.
IAVA is the nation’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their supporters. Founded in 2004, our mission is important but simple – to improve the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. With a steadily growing base of over 200,000 members and supporters, we strive to help create a society that honors and supports veterans of all generations.
IAVA believes that all veterans must have access to quality health care and related services. The men and women who volunteer to serve in our nation’s military do so with the understanding that they and their families will be cared for during their period of service, and also after their period of service should they sustain injuries or disabilities while serving.
IAVA supports H.R. 241, the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act, which would mandate that an acceptable VA health care appointment wait time is no more than 30 days from the date requested by the veteran. This bill will also help hold VA accountable for meeting this maximum allowable wait time through mandatory quarterly reviews and reporting on timeliness to this Committee. IAVA believes that all veterans should have equal and timely access to VA health care, regardless of where they reside. Furthermore, IAVA believes that a veteran’s ability to access timely care plays a vital role in sustaining his or her quality of life. Moreover, from a mental health point of view, the importance of providing timely care becomes even more critical. Timely mental health care can sometimes mean the difference between life and death for veterans in crisis. IAVA believes that every VA medical center and VA health care provider should be held to the same reasonable standards of timeliness when providing care for veterans.
IAVA supports H.R. 288, the CHAMPVA Children’s Protection Act of 2013. With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, children up to age 26 can now be covered by their parents’ health insurance plans. However, these provisions did not extend to recipients of TRICARE and the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). While legislation was subsequently enacted to extend this coverage option to eligible children of TRICARE recipients, no action has been taken on behalf of the same population under CHAMPVA. IAVA believes that we must enact this bill so that CHAMPVA benefits continue to be provided to the children of our nation’s wounded warriors and those who paid the ultimate price in service to our country.
IAVA supports H.R. 984, which would direct the Secretary of Defense to establish a task force on urotrauma in order to expand research on and develop new care recommendations for these injuries. Urotrauma, which involves an injury to the genitourinary system and is often seen in service members and veterans who have sustained blast injuries, is becoming more prevalent among today’s veteran population, especially among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the increased weight of modern body armor and gear worn by today’s service members can strain the abdominal muscles over time, which can also damage urinary function and other parts of the genitourinary system. While the number of urotrauma injuries has continued to rise, the body of knowledge on and available treatment options for these injuries have remained relatively stagnant. IAVA believes H.R. 984 is an important step in providing the necessary research and treatment options to address these serious wounds of war.
IAVA supports H.R. 1284, which would authorize the VA to reimburse the travel costs associated with seeking approved in-patient care at a VA Special Disabilities Rehabilitation Program for additional categories of catastrophically disabled veterans. Under current law, the VA reimburses certain veterans for costs associated with travel to and from approved VA medical facilities. However, there are certain categories of catastrophically disabled veterans who are not entitled to this reimbursement. We believe this legislation would provide critical assistance for more disabled veterans to allow them to receive the specialized in-patient treatment they need.
DRAFT BILL (Rep. Miller)
IAVA supports the Veterans Integrated Mental Health Care Act of 2013, which would assist veterans with accessing quality mental health care through VA-approved providers and TRICARE program networks. The overall shortage of mental health care providers is seriously impacting both VA and DoD. IAVA’s 2013 membership survey revealed that 80 percent of our respondents don’t think service members and veterans are getting the mental health care they need. IAVA believes that one way to help address the mental health care needs of veterans is through building the type of community partnerships that are advocated in and facilitated by this bill. These partnerships, which VA can use to help fill in gaps in its ability to deliver care and services, will allow veterans who would have otherwise had very lengthy wait times the opportunity to receive timely mental health care in their local communities. We believe this bill is a step in the right direction toward building such positive and beneficial community partnerships.
DRAFT BILL (Rep. Benishek)
IAVA supports the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act, which would formalize a system of accountability within VA, give the VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report recommendations more authority, and institute consequences for failing to fix problems clearly identified by the OIG. IAVA believes this bill will strengthen current systems of accountability by narrowing the focus of scrutiny as to who is responsible for producing and correcting OIG-identified public safety issues.
Mr. Chairman, we at IAVA again appreciate the opportunity to offer our views on these important pieces of legislation, and we look forward to continuing to work with each of you, your staff, and the Subcommittee to improve the lives of veterans and their families. Thank you for your time and attention.