Honorable Julia Brownley
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The purpose of today’s hearing will be to explore the policy implications of five bills before us today which cover a wide range of topics that would expand and enhance VA’s health care programs and services. To allow maximum time for discussion, I will limit my opening remarks primarily to H.R. 1443 and H.R. 1702.
H.R. 1443, Tinnitus Research and Treatment Act of 2013, is offered by Ranking Member Michaud.
According to the VA, tinnitus is the number one service-connected disability for veterans from all periods of service, affecting over 840,000 veterans. Since 2005, the number of veterans receiving service-connected disability for tinnitus has increased by at least 15 percent each year, and VA has been paying out over $1.2 billion annually to veterans for tinnitus disability compensation. At the current rate of increase, service-connected disability payments to veterans for tinnitus will cost $2.26 billion annually by 2014. Nevertheless, only about $10 million is dedicated to researching tinnitus in the public and private sectors.
H.R. 1443 will allow for appropriate research time and resources by directing VA to recognize tinnitus as a mandatory condition for research and treatment by the VA Auditory Centers of Excellence. This will make certain that research is conducted at VA facilities on the prevention and treatment of this condition, and that VA cooperates with the Department of Defense’s Hearing Center of Excellence to further research on tinnitus. H.R. 1443 would ensure that we remain on the cutting edge for research and treatment of this issue facing veterans of all ages.
Next, H.R. 1702, introduced by Mr. Barber of Arizona, would permanently authorize VA to operate the Veterans Transportation Service (or VTS), which provides transportation for individuals to and from VA medical facilities in connection with vocational rehabilitation, counseling, examination, treatment, or care. VTS was launched in 2010, and VA’s current authority to operate the program is set to expire in January of next year.
I did want to emphasize the critical need for this legislation in helping to increase access to care for those who would otherwise face challenges in getting to and from their appointments at VA. I also wanted to highlight that VA has estimated VTS to save up to $19.2 million in FY14 and $102.7 million over five years, because it is less expensive for the VA to hire drivers through VTS than to contract with ambulance services or to provide mileage reimbursements. So this is simply a commonsense initiative.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for including these bills on the agenda. I look forward to hearing the views of our witnesses on the legislation before us today.
Thank you, and I yield back.