VVA Addresses Home Care Nurses
at Town Hall Meeting
on Capitol Hill
Thomas J. Berger, Ph.D
Executive Director, Veterans Health Council
Vietnam Veterans of America
July 27, 2011
On July 27, the 40th anniversary of Medicare, VVA addressed home health nurses from across the U.S. who participated in a town hall meeting on Capitol Hill to discuss serious concerns over proposed funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid funded services in their communities. The meeting, convened by the National Association for Homecare & Hospice, coincided with a two-day visit to Capitol Hill in which nurses met with policy makers working to reach a final debt ceiling agreement.
“Vietnam Veterans of America hopes that Democrats and Republicans can agree that caring for veterans is part of the continuing cost of the national defense. Some in Congress, however, seem less conscious of the sacrifices by our current military and by veterans in defense of our nation. VVA would argue that there needs to be shared sacrifice. It is not right for millionaires who never served to keep their tax breaks, while disabled veterans’ compensation payments are delayed or reduced.
Medicare serves as a reference point from which various government agencies base their rates and overall operations. If Medicare funding cuts are implemented and a co-pay for home health care is initiated, it is likely the VA will implement similar changes. Implementing funding cuts to Medicare home health care services may in fact force providers, and specifically those serving rural communities, out of business. Given the high prevalence of veterans residing in rural areas, the care nurses provide to patients in the comfort of their own home is invaluable, as it not only saves in hospitalization costs, but it ensures patients do not have to travel 20, 30 and sometimes hundreds of miles one way for treatment. However, if providers are forced to shut their doors due to lack of funding, the current limited services available to veterans will be inundated with an unsustainable increase in patients, resulting in longer waits between care, or restriction of care all together.
The veteran community is also concerned with the proposed co-pay for home health care, which would be imposed on some of the sickest and poorest members of our society. Congress refers to the co-pay as ensuring patients have “skin in the game”, but the veterans who served this country believe, as they should, that they have put enough “skin in the game” and have earned the right to quality health care.
The ill-advised and serious attempt in the Senate last week to curtail benefits to Vietnam veterans who are ill as a result of exposure to Agent Orange should have convinced all of us that veterans’ benefits and health care are in jeopardy. We fought for the ideals of America, for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all who come to our shores. We fight mostly for our buddies next to us. We didn’t leave them behind on the field of battle, and we won’t leave them behind here at home. And neither should our elected officials in the corridors of Congress.
The time is now for Congress to recognize the incredible value home health care provides to America’s veterans, seniors and chronically ill populations and to disregard proposals that would harm these vulnerable communities.
We look forward to working with Congress to address the rise in health care costs, but all the while preserving quality home health care for those Americans who depend on it.
Thomas J. Berger, Ph.D.
Dr. Tom Berger is a Life Member of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and founding member of VVA Chapter 317 in Kansas City, Missouri. After serving as chair of VVA’s national PTSD and Substance Abuse Committee for almost a decade, he joined the staff of the VVA national office as “Senior Policy Analyst for Veterans’ Benefits & Mental Health Issues” in 2008, and then in June 2009, was appointed as “Executive Director of the VVA Veterans Health Council”. As such, he is a member and former Chair of the Veterans Administration’s (VA) Consumer Liaison Council for the Committee on Care of Veterans with Serious Mental Illness (SMI Committee); he is also a member of the VA’s Mental Health Quality Enhancement Research Initiative Depression Executive Committee (MHQUERI) and the South Central Mental Illness Research and Education Clinical Center (SC MIRECC). Dr. Berger also serves as a national committee member on the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) veterans’ working group, as member of the National Leadership Forum on Behavioral Health-Criminal Justice Services with the CMHS-funded national GAINS Center, and as a member of the Educational Advisory Board for the National Center for PTSD.
In addition, Dr. Berger holds the distinction of being the first representative of a national veterans’ service organization to hold membership on the VA’s Executive Committee of the Substance Use Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (SUD QUERI). Dr. Berger also serves as a reviewer of research proposals for DOD’s “Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs”. He is a member of VVA’s national Health Care, Government Affairs, Agent Orange and Toxic Substances, and Women Veterans committees. Dr. Berger served as a Navy Corpsman with the 3rd Marine Corps Division in Vietnam during 1966-68. Following his military service and upon the subsequent completion of his postdoctoral studies, he held faculty, research and administrative appointments at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, the State University System of Florida in Tallahassee, and the University of Missouri-Columbia, as well as program administrator positions with the Illinois Easter Seal Society and United Cerebral Palsy. His professional publications include books and research articles in the biological sciences, wildlife regulatory law, adolescent risk behaviors, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Berger now devotes his efforts full-time to veterans’ advocacy at the local, state and national levels on behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America. He presently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland.