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Opening Statement of The Honorable Julia Brownley, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Health, House Committee on Veterans Affairs

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Statement of Julia Brownley
Ranking Member of the
Subcommittee on Health
“Between Peril and Promise: Facing the Dangers of
VA’s Skyrocketing Use of Prescription Painkillers to Treat Veterans”
October 10, 2013; 10:00 a.m.
Room 334, Cannon House Office Building

 

Good morning.  I would like to thank everyone for attending today’s hearing.

Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects veterans at a much higher rate than in the civilian population.  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in the newest cohort of veterans, chronic pain is the most common medical problem reported in veterans returning from the battlefield with estimates as high as 60 percent for those who seek treatment at VA. 

Modern warfare often leads to serious but survivable physical and neurological injuries such as amputations, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, gunshot wounds, and more.  Often times these same veterans experience mental health issues as well such as post-traumatic-stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.  And while advances in medical technology have saved the lives of many wounded soldiers, many veterans of our Armed Forces are forced to live a life that is dominated by acute and chronic pain. Providing safe, effective, adequate pain management is a crucial component of improving veteran health care.

The treatment of chronic severe pain often involves physicians prescribing opioid analgesics, a highly addictive pain killer that if not properly monitored can lead to death.  Testimony from our first panel highlights the dangers of opioid use and just how quickly veterans get trapped in a rapid downward spiral of addiction and pain.

I know that VA has a National Pain Management Strategy, and I look forward to hearing from Dr. Jesse regarding the ramping up ofp clinics and services throughout the Veterans Health Administration.  I am also very interested in progress being made with the Department of Defense on transitioning servicemembers and the management of medications between the agencies.

Finally, VA recognizes that chronic and acute pain among our veterans is a serious problem and in fact, is a priority.  I applaud them for taking the lead on this issue.  But I am concerned that comprehensive pain care is not consistently provided throughout the VA’s health care system.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I now yield back.