WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired a second oversight hearing on the subject of cooperation and collaboration between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. This hearing focused specifically on health care, especially care for those servicemembers who have suffered traumatic injury.
The Committee heard testimony from two panels, one which included L. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraqi war veterans who is now Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, Jonathan Pruden, an Iraq War veteran, Denise Mettie, the mother of an Iraq veteran who is living with traumatic brain injury, and Dr. Bruce Gans, the Chief Medical Officer of the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute, a private facility that treats many of the types of injuries suffered by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The second panel consisted of senior health officials from DOD and VA
"Care for our veterans, especially those who need it most, must be the very best - the best we can do, and the best in the world. While those at DOD and VA are working hard for our wounded warriors, we saw today very clearly that much more needs to be done. I will continue to work to make sure that the transition of our returning servicemembers is as smooth as possible," Senator Akaka stated.
The Senator's opening statement is below:
This is the Committee's second hearing in our series on seamless transition. The focus, today, is on how DOD and VA are working to meet the health care needs of those transitioning from service, especially those who have sustained serious traumas.
There have been many hearings about Walter Reed since the story first broke about conditions there. This is not such a hearing. And yet, at one level, it is. The servicemembers who were staying in Building 18 at Walter Reed were in medical hold, awaiting a decision on their future.
With regard to the medical hold process, I realize that DOD must have time to make an informed decision on an injured service member's future. However, as soon as it seems likely that an individual will be unable to return to service, DOD must work with VA to ensure that the servicemember gets the care he or she needs and that the actual transfer is carried out effectively.
There is much talk about seamless transition, but it is far from clear that the talk is matched by effective action. This is not a new issue, but it seems that now more than ever, when the demand is so great, we find that there is more talk than action.
We have entered the fifth year of this war. I cannot help but wonder why so many things are still being planned, still being discussed. Why is it that DoD and VA still can not make the handoff of wounded servicemembers more effectively? Why do budgets still not reflect that caring for veterans is part of the cost of war?
Another key element in easing the transition is making sure that servicemembers and their families have someone at both DOD and VA to whom they can turn, and who has responsibility for making sure that they are getting the care and services they need.
I remain resolute: For those seriously injured, the transfer from DOD to VA without undue disruption to the wounded servicemember simply must happen.
We have two panels of witnesses today. The first includes a number of witnesses who, unfortunately, are living every day with the impact of serious traumas. I have asked the witnesses from the Administration to listen to the testimony of the first panel, so that when they come forward, they will be able to address issues raised by the first panel.
March 29, 2007