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Witness Testimony of Mr. Dennis M. Cullinan, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Director, National Legislative Service

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.4 million men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on a wide range of important veterans health care bills.

H.R. 1488, the VA Hospital Quality Report Card Act

The VFW is pleased to support the VA Hospital Quality Report Card Act, legislation that would require VA to develop and implement a system to measure data about its health care facilities.

This data would be of great service.  It would allow veterans to compare the quality of service VA provides, letting them make informed judgments about their health care.  It would allow VA to identify areas of improvement, and it would provide essential data for Congress to better use its essential oversight authority.

H.R. 1853, the Jose Medina Veterans Affairs Police Training Act

The VFW supports this legislation which would require VA police officers to undergo training on how to deal with patients and visitors who are suffering from mental illnesses.

Given the large numbers of returning veterans who are suffering from mental illnesses of various degrees, extra training for VA employees on how to deal with these patients is entirely appropriate.  This is especially true for those patients who are vulnerable and suffering the most.  The extra training will ensure that wounded warriors are treated with dignity and respect.

H.R. 1925

The VFW has no objection to H.R. 1925, legislation that would establish a new Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) in the Gulf Coast Region.  The regions in this area share many similar geographic things in common and, perhaps, aligning them all in one vision will allow them to better serve the veterans’ population.

H.R. 2005, Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act

The VFW is pleased to support the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, legislation that aims to solve one of the greatest problems facing the large number of veterans who live in remote locations: access to care.  It aims to improve services including transportation for disabled vets, research and partnerships with small communities.

It would require VA to create centers of excellence for rural health care veterans and to establish a grant program for groups that help transport veterans from rural areas.  It also includes a provision that would create demonstration projects for potential partnerships with local hospitals and community health centers, as well as for Native American veterans.

We are strongly supportive of Section 2, which would increase the mileage reimbursement rate veterans receive for their travel expenses related to VA health care to the rate provided to all federal employees.   The current deductible for travel expenses is so limiting that most veterans receive little, if any, compensation for their travels.  With so many veterans facing drives of hundreds of miles for even basic care, this is clearly the right thing to do.

H.R. 2172, Amputee Veteran Assistance Act

The VFW is supportive of H.R. 2172, a bill to require that all Department of Veterans Affairs orthotic-prosthetic laboratories, clinics, and prosthesists are certified by either the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics or the Board of Orthotics and Prosthetic Certification. However,  the VFW is not sure if changing the rules of VA’s prosthetic program is needed, and we have concerns that the certification requirements that would affect all service and repair programs for prosthetics and orthotics is necessary.

VA continues to be on the forefront of advancement in this most important area, allowing hundreds of our wounded warriors the ability to regain their mobility or to become whole. 

We are also concerned that some efforts to create a certification process could lead towards a standardization process that aims for one-size-fits-all solutions, instead of a personalized approach necessary to deal with each veteran’s particular disability.  Medical decisions must be made on the individualized needs of a veteran and what works best.

H.R. 2173

We support the intent of this legislation, which would allow the VA secretary to enter into contracts for service with community mental health care centers, but we do have some concerns.

With the number of returning service members who are suffering from mental health conditions, it is clear that VA can and must do more.  VA has made great strides from where they were a few years ago in providing care, but the system is far from perfect.  This legislation aims to fill in the gaps, by allowing VA to utilize local resources, presumably in places where there are gaps in the availability of care – whether through a high demand or a dearth of providers.

We remain concerned, however, with an over-reliance on contract care.  Especially in the mental health area contract care could lead to some extensive continuity of care problems. Among other things, VA would have to determine some way to ensure that no veteran falls through the cracks when going from the department to a local provider.  Further, it would be absolutely critical that patient records be transferable among all providers so that all information is provided to all involved health care givers.  We have concerns, given VA’s state-of-the-art medical records, that this is feasible in dealing with the private sector.

We need to do more for these wounded warriors, but we need to make sure that what we’re doing really is in their best interest.

H.R. 2219, Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline Act

The VFW supports this legislation which would establish a grant program to an organization to staff and run a suicide prevention hotline targeted and staffed by veterans and armed forces personnel.

We understand that VA is in the process of establishing a similar hotline, so it may be necessary to determine how much overlap is between the programs.   It is clear, however, that the program would be beneficial.

This is a critical issue, especially with the difficulties so many of our men and women who have worn the uniform are facing.  Anything we can do to extend a helping hand, especially when they are suffering and in a time of such need, is essential.

H.R. 2623

The VFW offers our support for this legislation, which would exempt patients seeking hospice care from paying co-payments.  This is a compassionate idea that relieves a burden on the veteran and their loved ones at a critical time.

This concludes my testimony and I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have.