Vietnam Veterans of America
Richard F. Weidman
Executive Director for Policy & Government Affairs
H.R. 2818, H.R. 5730, H.R. 5554, H.R. 5595, H.R. 5622
And Draft Bills
Subcommittee on Health
United States House of Representatives
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
April 15, 2008
On behalf of the members of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and
their families, we appreciate being afforded the opportunity to offer
testimony on the health-related legislation up for consideration before
the distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Health.
H.R. 2818: This bill would provide for the establishment of Epilepsy
Centers of Excellence in the Veterans Health Administration of the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
While VVA generally supports the intent of this legislation, particularly
Section (e)(3) as it calls for the inclusion of veterans on the center
facilities’ advisory boards, we are obligated to voice our concerns
with other parts of the bill as written.
VVA considers that the location of such centers must be in close proximity
to and closely partnered with the Traumatic Brain Injury Centers of
Excellence which are already in operation. The reasons for this are
clear: Within our veteran cohort, epilepsy is most often the result
of traumatic brain injury, what many consider to be the “signature
wound” of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks to antiquated
legislation and budgetary cutbacks, very few medical facilities in
the U.S. are capable of providing even the most minimal level of specialized
care for brain-injured patients, forcing most survivors to find treatment
hundreds of miles from home, if they can find it at all. And keep this
in mind: more than 40 percent of our military deployed in Afghanistan
and Iraq hail from rural America.
In addition, the most utilized current treatment modality for epilepsy/seizure
disorder is medication. However, epilepsy/seizure disorder caused by
either a concussive or contusive brain injury is never just an isolated
incident. Over time, without proper diagnosis, treatment and care,
this can impact a survivor’s cognitive, motor, auditory, olfactory,
and visual skills. Treatment and recovery services and programs can
also collapse a family and its finances.
Furthermore, establishment of the epilepsy centers in partnership
with the TBI Centers will necessitate the hiring of additional clinical
staff to coordinate treatment and recovery plans. It should also be
noted, however, that brain injuries cannot be managed any more than
a thunderstorm can be managed. Although licensed clinical case managers
number in the tens of thousands, licensed brain injury case managers
number only in the tens of dozens, according to the Case Management
Society of America. Of all the medically challenging injuries, brain
injuries require the most involvement and cost over time.
So, yes, H.R. 2818, as currently drafted, represents a good beginning
of vitally needed legislation.
H.R. 5730: This bill, direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to
display in each prosthetic and orthotic clinic of the Department of
Veterans Affairs an Injured and Amputee Veterans Bill of Rights.
VVA endorses H.R. 5730
H.R. 5554: The goal of the “Veterans Substance Use Disorders
Prevention and Treatment Act of 2008” is to “expand and
improve” healthcare services available to veterans from the VA
for substance use disorders. This is laudable and doable. H.R. 5554
ought to be enacted and action taken by the VA to immediately adapt
to its provisions. And we applaud the provision in this bill that “report(s)
an assessment of the feasibility and advisability of the pilot program,
of any cost savings or other benefits associated with the pilot program,
and recommendations for the continuation or expansion of the pilot
Far too many veterans self-medicate to assuage the demons inside,
demons that often derive from their experiences while in uniform. In
order for them to lead complete and productive lives, they need to
get the monkey off their backs.
Of course, the VA will have to gear up in order to comply with the
provisions of the bill if H.R. 5554 becomes law. A key aspect of this
gearing up will be to find and hire enough experienced substance use
counselors and clerical staff, something we believe the VA is quite
adept at doing.
VVA endorses H.R. 5554.
H.R. 5595: The sweetly-titled “Make Our Veterans Smile Act of
2008” would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide
dental care to veterans with service-connected disabilities.
VVA endorses this bill, even though it will mean that VAMCs will have
to pump up their dental departments. This they ought to be able to
accomplish, considering the boosts to VA coffers in the current fiscal
H.R. 5622: The “Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act” would,
if enacted, set in motion a pilot program “to establish standards
of access to care for veterans seeking health care from certain Department
of Veterans Affairs medical facilities.”
This bill, however, will likely cause more bureaucratic and clerical
headaches than make the delivery of health care more efficient. Also,
this bill, like H.R. 4915, seemingly does not take into account the
fact that one out of every ten healthcare dollars spent by the VA is
spent outside the VA system.
We fear that a bill such as this will only serve to erode the VA system,
which has been built up since the advent of the Eligibility Reform
Act in 1996. Congress has sought to improve the very services this
bill seeks to remedy by appropriating several billion additional dollars
over the past two fiscal years for VA health care. We would advise
the subcommittee to take a very hard look at the potential for damaging
the very system a bill like H.R. 5622 seeks to help.
With this in mind, VVA cannot endorse H.R. 5622.
“Spina Bifida Health Care Program Expansion Act”: This
bill is a sensible update, taking into account that a child afflicted
with spina bifida is no longer a child and hence may need a variety
of additional medical interventions and healthcare services.
VVA would advocate, however, that Congress consider, either as part
of this bill or in a new bill, mandating that the VA conduct research
into other potential intergenerational effects of exposure to Agent
Orange and other toxins in military services. We are hearing too many
stories from too many children of in-country Vietnam veterans who tell
of the birth defects suffered by their offspring and who wonder: Could
this be somehow related to my father’s – or mother’s – exposure
to Agent Orange?
I thank you for affording VVA the opportunity to present our views,
and thank you for what you are doing to assist veterans and their families.
I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
April 15, 2008
The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit
veterans' membership organization registered as a 501(c) (19) with
the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered
with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives
in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract,
other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources
in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its
Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is
also true of the previous two fiscal years.
For Further Information, Contact:
Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America.
(301) 585-4000, extension
Richard F. Weidman
Richard F. “Rick” Weidman is Executive Director for Policy
and Government Affairs on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of
America. As such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in Washington.
He served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War,
including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division, located
in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.
Mr. Weidman was part of the staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving
variously as Membership Service Director, Agency Liaison, and Director
of Government Relations. He left VVA to serve in the Administration
of Governor Mario M. Cuomo as statewide director of veterans’ employment & training
(State Veterans Programs Administrator) for the New York State Department
He has served as Consultant on Legislative Affairs to the National
Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and served at various times
on the VA Readjustment Advisory Committee, the Secretary of Labor’s
Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the President’s
Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities - Subcommittee
on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Entrepreneurship
at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other advocacy posts.
He currently serves as Chairman of the Task Force for Veterans’ Entrepreneurship,
which has become the principal collective voice for veteran and disabled
veteran small-business owners.
Mr. Weidman was an instructor and administrator
at Johnson State College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he was also
active in community and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate University
(B.A., 1967), and did graduate study at the University of Vermont.
He is married and has four children.