Sunday, June 20, 2010

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee

In May, C.I. did a poll of veterans who were community visitors and/or visitors to The Common Ills (she published it on Memorial Day). And one of the biggest issues was having such a hard time figuring out what Congress was or wasn't doing on their issues.

As such, today we'll note two press releases (both were sent to the public account of The Common Ills). First up, Senator Daniel Akaka is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:


Senators call for specific actions from Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to the secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs sent yesterday, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and a bipartisan group of Veterans' Affairs and Armed Services committee members urged stronger coordination and better follow up on traumatic brain injury (TBI).

"For the past nine years we have been a nation at war, and traumatic brain injury has become the signature wound. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken commendable steps to understand and treat TBI, but they must improve collaboration and share what they have learned. Veterans and their families should not have to wait nearly a decade for the government to adapt to the needs of the wounded," said Akaka.

The Senators called for specific improvements from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, including:

  • Prompt action to finalize and implement DOD's draft policy mandating evaluation and rest periods for individuals with TBI, and to ensure that existing policies are being adhered to by each military service branch;
  • Action to ensure documentation of TBI and follow-up during Post-Deployment Health Assessments and Reassessments;
  • Expedited establishment of DOD centers of excellence for military eye injuries, and for hearing loss and amputations;
  • Quicker progress to make VA/DOD collaboration and data transfers more robust, comprehensive, and seamless; and
  • Making full use of authority granted by Congress for VA to partner with state, local, and community providers to improve access to care and reduce the burden on veterans receiving treatment for TBI, and their family members.

Last month, the Veterans' Affairs Committee held an oversight hearing on the state of care for troops and veterans suffering from TBI. In January 2008, Congress passed provisions authored by Chairman Akaka and approved by the Veterans' Affairs Committee to reform VA/DOD collaboration and care related to TBI as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Akaka continues to work with committee members and others to ensure effective implementation.

To view the letter, click here: LINK


Kawika Riley

Communications Director and Legislative Assistant

U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman

The Committee held a hearing on Wednesday. During the first panel, one of the Committee members asking questions was Senator Mark Begich (D, Alaska). The senator actually ended up chairing the second panel. (C.I. covered the hearing in Wednesday's snapshot and Friday's snapshot.) Begich's office issued the following:

Contact: Julie Hasquet, Press Secretary
(907) 258-9304 office
(907) 350-4846 cell
June 16, 2010

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, chairing a hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, today secured a commitment from the Veterans Administration (VA) to a high level meeting in the next three months with officials from the Indian Health Services (IHS) to focus on ways to improve care for rural veterans.

The topic of the hearing was VA Health Care in Rural Areas and included testimony from three Alaska witnesses directly involved in health care delivery to Alaska's veterans.

"I am pleased the VA recognizes the challenges faced by Alaska's veterans, particularly in rural areas, in accessing affordable and easily available health care services," Begich said. "The more we can coordinate and find ways to improve the system, the better off Alaska's veterans will be."

The committee heard testimony from Dan Winkelman, Vice President and General Counsel at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation; Brigadier General Deborah McManus, Assistant Adjutant General and Commander, Alaska National Guard; and Verdie Bowen, Director, Office of Veterans Affairs, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

All of the Alaska witnesses testified about the difficulty in providing efficient services for veterans in rural parts of the state.

Winkelman testified that high energy, food and personnel costs add to the enormous disparity rural veterans have in accessing health care, a problem compounded by the fact there are few veterans health facilities in rural areas.

"To lack access upon their return from duty to culturally appropriate and quality health care services by the VA is a shame," Winkelman said.

Witnesses talked about the possibility and need for allowing rural veterans to access care at IHS funded facilities and have the VA reimburse the provider later, in many cases saving money and time by not forcing veterans to travel to Alaska's larger cities where VA facilities are located.

In response to the testimony and under questioning from Sen. Begich, VA Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management, William Schoenhard agreed to organize a high level meeting between VA and IHS officials in the next few months.

"We should collaborate. I would certainly welcome how we can better serve and get veterans engaged with IHS," Schoenhard testified.

Schoenhard admitted the VA doesn't have a thorough understanding of some of the obstacles faced by rural veterans and is looking at ways to revitalize the Rural Pilot Project, an outreach program designed to enroll more rural Alaska veterans in the VA health system.

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