Witness Testimony of Hon. Silvestre Reyes, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas
Chairman Michaud, Ranking Member Miller, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you in support of my bill HR 2172 the Amputee Veteran Assistance Act. As a veteran and former member of this committee, many of you know me well and are aware of my commitment to Veteran issues. Today as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a member of the Armed Services Committee much of my time is devoted to ensuring that our troops have the necessary equipment and timely intelligence they need to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to return home safely. However, I believe it is also critically important that our troops have confidence that if they are wounded in battle that they will be cared for in a manner that reflects the great sacrifices they have made for our country.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are placing great strain not only on our armed forces but on the Veterans Administration (VA) as well. The VA has not experienced this level of casualties since the Vietnam War. Despite the committed work of many health care professionals within the VA, the system is having a tough time dealing with this new influx of wounded veterans, while addressing the needs of our others veterans who honorably served in previous conflicts.
As you know, since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 500 of our brave men and women in the armed forces have suffered major amputations resulting from wounds and injuries received in combat. Many of them have suffered multiple amputations. Our wounded servicemen and woman are now receiving world-renowned care and access to some of the most modern prosthetic technology available under the Department of Defense (DOD) healthcare system. Some of our amputee soldiers have even been able to return to duty. However, others, because of their own unique situations, are transitioning to the VA, a system they will be part of for the rest of their lives. I want to assure that the VA is well prepared to provide service and care for their advanced prosthetic devices. Some recent amputee veterans and veteran support groups have expressed reservations that the VA is currently too focused on convalescent care and does not have the resources and training to help these wounded men and women return to the active lives they led before their wounds.
During her testimony before the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs last March, Major Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war amputee and Director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs, spoke about her difficulties transferring from the DOD healthcare system to the VA. She noted that the care she received as an inpatient at Walter Read Army Medical Center was exceptional, but her experiences with her local VA prosthetic facility were less positive. She pointed out that the VA prosthetics departments were “many decades behind” in technology and that VA staff, while eager to be helpful, lacked the knowledge and training to treat amputees at high tech levels set at Walter Reed and other major DOD health care facilities.
The Amputee Veteran Assistance Act is an important step towards addressing some of these shortcomings in the VA system. I would like to emphasize that this bill is not an indictment of the VA. The VA has played an important role in research and development in the field of prosthetics for many decades and should be commended for its efforts. Instead, it is a step towards giving VA personnel the training and resources they need to do their jobs better, while addressing the immediate concerns of our amputee veterans. It is my hope that this bill will help create a more personalized approach for our veterans. The field of prosthetics is as much of an art as it is a science. Each amputee veteran is a unique case with his or her own specific needs. My bill is not an attempt to create a “one size fits all” solution but to better prepare the VA to address a wide range of demands and give our amputee veterans greater options in the mean time.
This legislation will require that all VA prosthetic facilities and prosthesists be certified within five years by either the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics or the Board of Orthotics and Prosthetic Certification. Many of the VA facilities and prosthesists are already board certified but some are still lagging behind. It also allows amputee veterans to seek care for the repair and servicing of prosthetic devices from outside the VA system when VA facilities are unable to perform the required service or repairs or when a suitable VA facility is not available within a 55 mile radius. The VA will also be required to conduct a study to provide recommendations on modernizing its facilities and training its prosthesists so that it will be able to address the high tech needs of these amputee veterans. This report will allow us to get a better handle on what kind of resources the VA will need to address these problems. It also requires the VA to implement a plan to inform amputee veterans twice a year about the latest innovations in the field of prosthetics. Advances in the field of prosthetics continue rapidly and many amputee veterans may not be aware of some of the new options out there for them.
I know you will all agree that providing for our brave men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so much for our great nation is imperative. Today we have an opportunity to demonstrate to our disabled veterans our firm commitment to providing them with all possible means for living a full and rewarding life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before the committee. I will be pleased to answer any questions you might have.