VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony
 

Testimony of

Vietnam Veterans of America

 

Presented by

Richard F. Weidman
Executive Director for Policy & Government Affairs

Concerning

Health-Related Bills
H.R. 2818, H.R. 5730, H.R. 5554, H.R. 5595, H.R. 5622
And Draft Bills

Before the
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 program.”

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 year.

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
Funding Statement
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 of Labor.

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.

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