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Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle

Honorable Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.         

I am pleased to join my colleagues from the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees and the Secretaries of the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) this morning to continue a conversation of critical importance to our servicemembers, veterans, and their families.

Following reports on deficiencies in the quality of care and living conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007, President George W. Bush established the Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. The Commission, chaired by former Senator Bob Dole and former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, was tasked with evaluating the challenges faced by DOD and VA in creating a seamless transition for wounded warriors from injury to active-duty or veteran status. 

The Commission found that the complex systems of care, benefits, and services presented difficulties and bureaucratic obstacles for wounded warriors whose recovery, rehabilitation, and transition needs crossed the jurisdictional boundaries of VA and DOD.   

The Dole-Shalala Commission report called for “fundamental changes in care management and the disability system.” However, despite the urgent call to simplify the complicated systems that are in place to support and serve our warriors and their families, the transition from active duty to veteran status remains anything but seamless today.

Five years later, we continue to see servicemembers, veterans and their families struggling to navigate the immense bureaucracies of DOD and VA as they attempt to access the care and benefits they need. 

Further, we continue to see the Departments, hindered by organizational and cultural reluctance to change, operating separate disability systems; duplicative and overlapping care coordination programs; and most critically disparate and outdated electronic medical records systems.  The interoperable, bidirectional electronic medical record we know is essential to providing a smooth transition for our separating service members, may be light years away.

The written statements provided by the Secretaries this morning speak of progress and change but very little specifics. They could have been written any time in the last decade.

Last week, I met with a group of wounded warriors and caregivers and spent an hour listening to them recount their personal experiences of transition, recovery, and the aftermath of war.

Effectively and efficiently meeting their unique needs will require the focused attention and dedicated partnership of all of us – DOD, VA, Congress, and community and faith-based groups across our great country – right now.

When our nation needed defending, our servicemembers and veterans did not hesitate to answer the call of duty. I urge us all not to let another five years pass without doing the same for them in return.

Thank you again and I yield back.