WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs and member of the Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement today regarding the Government Accountability Office's report, entitled "VA and DOD Health Care: Administration of DOD's Post-Deployment Health Reassessment to National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers and VA's Interaction with DOD."
"I hoped that this report would bear better news, but unfortunately it shows that serious gaps remain in how DOD is conducting post-deployment health reassessments of Guard and Reserve servicemembers. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee will address this shortcoming to ensure that our returning troops baring invisible wounds receive the care they need."
Among the most significant findings: less than half of the returning servicemembers processed for either physical or mental health concerns were referred to VA facilities.
"We need to do a better job ensuring these servicemembers are properly assessed and that those in need of health care services are getting them," Akaka said.
"The report found the contractors used by DOD only administer the health reassessment in person when they can achieve an ‘economy of scale.' To me this is unacceptable - the risk of short-changing these servicemembers with an insufficient examination is great, and the repercussions potentially devastating," Akaka said.
Post-deployment health reassessments are conducted 90-180 days after a servicemember has returned from a deployment. This is a critical time period, when diagnosis of conditions such as PTSD, mild traumatic brain injury, and other serious health conditions are typically made.
Chairman Akaka added: "Today, servicemembers are only required to provide basic demographic information, and the health reassessment is frequently conducted by telephone. The effectiveness of a contractor call center is questionable - as the report found, there is no follow-up and the servicemember is often left with another number to call."
Recognizing the ongoing problems with access to health care among rural veterans, Chairman Akaka noted, "Guard and reserve servicemembers face unique challenges; many reside in rural areas where access to health care is difficult, and unlike active duty servicemembers, they return home and lose the support structure of their unit. In light of this report, I am concerned that these reassessments are inadequate to meet the needs of these veterans."
The GAO report will be published today: http://gao.gov/docsearch/repandtest.html
January 25, 2008