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Witness Testimony of Hon. Nita M. Lowey, a Representative in Congress from the State of New York

I want to thank the Committee for holding this hearing today and for considering the VA Hospital Quality Report Card Act of 2007. I introduced this legislation in an effort to provide increased disclosure and accountability in the VA hospital system, and ultimately increase the quality of care for the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces.

The treatment provided to our veterans is not a partisan or political issue, and I am pleased that this legislation is cosponsored by some of my Republican colleagues.

I believe we can all agree that quality care initiatives and public disclosure should not end when an individual leaves active military service. In fact, the quality of care for those who have bravely served our nation should be of the highest standard possible.

To achieve that goal we must have a clear picture of the quality of care provided by the Veterans Administration, and this information must be continually assessed and updated. As we learned with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a facility that once defined excellence may not do so in the future without constant internal assessments.

My legislation would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a formal Hospital Report Card Initiative and publish reports on individual hospitals’ level and quality of care. The resulting report cards would: provide clear outcomes data to be used for peer review and quality improvement; galvanize hospitals to make changes by creating public accountability; and provide our veterans with the information they need to make sound health care decisions. Several states, including Pennsylvania, New York, California, Florida and Illinois, have already implemented Hospital Report Card Initiatives.

A March 2007 Veterans Administration report exposed major deficiencies in the physical conditions in many veterans’ facilities.

In this report, the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System, which serves over 25,000 veterans throughout my district and the surrounding areas, was cited for ceiling mold, suicide hazards in the psychiatric ward and cosmetic deficiencies. I’m going to repeat one part of that because I think it underscores the level of neglect seen throughout the VA health care system – suicide hazards in a psychiatric ward, an area in hospitals that most certainly should limit the ability of an individual to harm him or her self.

Dr. Michael Kussman, Under Secretary for Health at the VA, previously stated, “VA facilities are inspected more frequently than any other health care facilities in the nation.” If this is true, the Department should have no problem complying with the requirements of this legislation.

If we are serious about ensuring a seamless transition between DOD-provided health care and VA-provided health care, we must have an accurate assessment of the VA system, and the VA Hospital Quality Report Card Act of 2007 would provide just that.

I thank the Members of the Subcommittee once again for this hearing and I look forward to working with each of you to provide our veterans with the level of health care worthy of their service and dedication to our country.