AFTER Prosthetics, and Coordination that Remain Four Years After Scandal: Chairman Murray Hears First-Hand Accounts from Veterans, Examines Problems Surrounding Suicides,
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairmanheard from veterans and top VA and Pentagon officials about challenges that remain in the care for amputees, rising suicide rates, poor coordination between the departments, and delays in disability evaluations. The hearing was the second of two hearings Chairman Murray held to look at the challenges veterans face because of the lack of collaboration between the Pentagon and the . As Chairman, Murray will continue to work to bring both departments to the table to prevent more veterans from falling through the cracks of the system as they transition home.
READ TESTIMONY FROM:
SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING STATEMENT:
“Welcome to today’s hearing to examine the ongoing efforts of the and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a truly seamless transition for our servicemembers and veterans. Last week Deputy Secretary Lynn and Deputy Secretary Gould highlighted the challenges and successes DoD and VA have encountered on the path toward a truly seamless transition. Today, we will hear directly from some of our nation’s wounded warriors who will share their views and first-hand experiences on how DoD and VA can further improve the transition for servicemembers and veterans.
“I look forward to hearing from them about what went well but also about how they were negatively impacted by the lack of collaboration between DoD and VA and what they believe can be done to improve the transition for the thousands upon thousands of servicemembers still to come home. I also look forward to talking with our Department witnesses, who are working to improve this critical transition period to ensure veterans are not falling through the cracks.
“I know that VA and DoD have big challenges facing them: servicemembers and veterans continue to take their own lives at an alarming rate, wait times for benefits continue to drag on for an average of a year or far more, and the quality of prosthetic care continues to be inconsistent between the Departments.
“Now, in some instances DoD and VA have come to the table to make headway on these issues, and they should be commended for that. But we still have work to do. In fact, sometimes it is the simplest fixes that for some reason the two Departments cannot come together on.
“A good example of this is the Traumatic Extremity Injuries and Amputation Center of Excellence that was mandated to move forward on October 14th, 2008.This new center was supposed to be a place where best practices could be shared and a registry of these injuries could begin. But here we are two and a half years later – and we have not seen any substantial movement toward the creation of this center.
“When I asked Secretary Lynn last week what progress had been made he could not provide an answer. This is unacceptable. But as our witnesses’ testimony today will show, this is unfortunately not the only area where we need better medical collaboration. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that each Department knows what the other is providing to our servicemembers and veterans.
“It was evident from last week’s hearing that the sheer number of programs that are in place have resulted in several parallel, but not collaborative, processes. Last week we also discussed the need for the best amputee care that can be provided as well as the divide between the level of technology at the DoD and the VA. Beyond the Center of Excellence that I mentioned earlier, I look forward to hearing about the improvements that are being made in this area.
“Veterans cannot come home to VA facilities that cannot care for the devices that our servicemembers are getting at cutting edge DoD prosthetics facilities. We must do everything we can to bring all services up to the standard our seriously injured veterans deserve.
“I am optimistic that we can do this because I know there are facilities like the new polytrauma and amputee care transition units that are being piloted at the in Richmond, Virginia. Not only is this an innovative and critical component of care, but it also is an example of where DoD and VA came together, jointly assessed the problems in the system of care, and responded appropriately. I would like to see this approach brought to bear on all aspects of transition.
“Today, we will also further discuss the efforts to expand and improve mental health care. We do not need the courts to tell us that much more can and should be done to relieve the invisible wounds of war. Although some steps have been taken, the stigma against mental health issues continues within the military and VA care is still often too difficult to access. This has had a tragic impact.
“Last month, VA’s Veterans Crisis Line had the most calls ever recorded in a single month -- more than 14,000. That means that every day last month, more than 400 calls were received. While it is heartening to know that these calls for help are being answered, it is a sad sign of the desperation and difficulties our veterans face that there are so many in need of a lifeline. I look forward to speaking with all of our witnesses about this most pressing issue.
“But health care is not the only area that needs better collaboration. Last week, we discussed the delays and dissatisfaction that characterize the joint disability process - the program that was supposed to streamline the way our veterans get their benefits. Instead, however, what we learned is that veterans are still waiting up to 400 days for word on their benefits and that all too often veterans are committing suicide or turning to drugs and alcohol in the time their lives are put on hold by this process.
“Today I would like to hear how we are going to do better. We must not forget that the commitment we make to our servicemembers, and to their families, when they join the military does not end after they return home. Whatever condition they arrive in, this nation will provide them with the care and services they need and deserve.
“Just a couple days ago, a Marine whose home base is here in the nation’s capital – and with whom a member of my staff served – was wounded by an IED in southern Afghanistan. He has lost much of his leg and doctors are struggling to save one of his arms. During one surgery, one of his lungs collapsed. This is in addition to serious shrapnel wounds he received. I want this marine – and all Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsmen – to have every benefit and every service we have available. I want him to receive care that is not just excellent but truly the best in the world. I do not want him, or any service member or veteran who has sustained such injuries, to have to wait months or even years to have a claim adjudicated because we cannot make the bureaucracy efficient. I do not want him to receive anything less than the best prosthetic limb we can design and ensure that it is perfectly adapted to him. I want him to receive treatment and support as he copes with this new reality.
“Just as important, I want his loved ones to get the support they need, because if we cannot be there for them, they will not be able to be there for him. I know all of us here share these desires, and the dedication to achieving these goals. We are almost ten years into these conflicts. It is passed time to get it right. The system is doing many things well, but there is always more that can be done. I believe all the Members here, and all of our VA and DoD employees share the commitment to excellence our veterans deserve.
“I want to thank all of our panelists for being here today. We look forward to hearing from all of you.”
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
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Several things on the above. First, if you try to use the link and you are unable to visit the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee webpage, you're not the only one having that problem. There are 16 e-mails noting that they can't display the page and get an error message. Of the 16, 4 have replied to my e-mails this morning and the common denominator appears to be that they are all using AT&T DSL. If you are as well, you may experience that problem. I don't know that it is AT&T, I just know that's the only common thing the four who replied shared (otherwise, different computers, different operating software, etc.). I can pull up the page right now on my laptop and on the two cells earlier. (But I don't use AT&T.) But if you're having the problem, you're not the only one having that problem.
The 16 who e-mailed about the problem went to the page wanting to stream yesterday's hearing which some nicely note that they really wanted to hear about in yesterday's snapshot and some more pointedly note that they really think it should have been in yesterday's snapshot.
It was an important hearing. We noted it before it took place. It was the second of a two-part hearing and we noted and covered last week's. I made a point to attend the hearing and to take notes. The plan is to cover it in today's snapshot.
Yesterday's snapshot was 87 K. Around 90 is what we consider to be the max. (When it goes after 90, there's always a chance that the person I dictate it too will be unable to e-mail it to the site, it will be too large and bounce back and then I'll get a call -- which I may not be able to take or return right away -- and we'll work on editing it down.)
During the hearing, about an hour in, I started getting texts about the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Probably exactly an hour into the Senate VA Committee hearing because the House hearing got underway about 40 minutes after Murray's hearing started. The texts repeatedly noted that I was missing a lively hearing. After the third or fourth, I texted back that when I had enough for the snapshot, I'd break away and try to join that hearing. That's why I was only present for about the last third of the Foreign Affairs hearing.
But that was a lively hearing. And it was an important hearing. I tried to just present the arguments being made (see the question and answer exchange) as much as possible. I didn't weigh in on any of the proposed legislation discussed.
Congressional responsibility to take action if you feel the executive branch is in violation of the law, I did weigh in and always will. I also weighed in on Howard Berman who gets on my last nerve but I usually bite my tongue.
I swear, if the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on global dimming, the first question out of Howard's mouth would be, "What does this mean for Israel?" Israel is his version of "This one time, in band camp . . ." He just never, ever leaves it alone. No matter what the subject. Yesterday it was the War Powers Act. The US is not at war with Israel. But you wouldn't know that from all the emphasis Howard placed on 'how would this effect Israel!!!'
Senator Jon Tester sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Prior to any hearing, you can make a bet -- and usually you'd win -- that he will mention rural veterans. That's because his state has so many. That's who he represents and he's very careful about ensuring his constitutents -- all of them, there are many kind of rural veterans -- are represented.
However, the greater Los Angeles-San Fernando Valley region does not include the West Bank, Bethelem or any other part of Israel. So why is Israel always Berman's top issue? (Jewish Americans -- who are not Israelis and may or may not be sympathetic to the current Israeli government and its desires -- make up significantly less than 25% of Howard Berman's district.) He's not representing his district and it's annoying and embarrassing. Again, most of the time I just bite my tongue. I wasn't in the mood for his nonsense yesterday -- not his weak opening statements and not his immediate 'WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN FOR ISRAEL!' obsession.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee also didn't require me to be upset to write about it. The Senate hearing will require me to be upset and righteously indignant. And I can do that but I was honestly too tired to pull out that kind of depth yesterday. I tried to keep it as light as possible considering the topics -- hence the "About The Author" part. I was exhausted from surgery and I had refused pain medications post-surgery so my eyes had been more than a little watery from the pain and I was tired of crying. (And turns out I have pink eye. Great. Go the hospital for surgery, get pink eye. I think that says a great deal. I identify strongly with the character Marlo Thomas -- the great Marlo! -- plays in In The Spirit when it comes to Reva's views on hospitalization.) I would have probably lept at anything to cover that day other than the hardships and issues discussed in Murray's very important hearing.
Well couldn't we have done both, one person e-mailed?
Not really. Two important US hearings would have required dropping from the non-hearing which would have resulted -- as it always has when we've covered more than one hearing in a snapshot that was not directly on Iraq -- e-mails asking why it's called the Iraq snapshot when it's about everything but Iraq? (That's not a serious question, I know, it's actually a criticism. Yes, and I get it.) 6 K would have been the most I risked and 6 K wouldn't have allowed for setting the scene.
There was also Brad Sherman's remarks at the House hearing to consider.
I think Brad Sherman's remarks were important and would have been important under any presidency. I think they were especially important currently.
For all of those reasons -- and mainly not wanting to have to go to a place where I'm crying while I dictate the snapshot, I just didn't have it in me yesterday, I was too worn out to go through that -- the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing was pushed back to today's snapshot.
The plan is to cover it today and that's my intent. I could get run over by a bus between now and then so let's say "the plan is." When we do cover it, we'll give serious attention to it.
On the surgery, the e-mails on that at first I was trying to respond to myself. I can't at this point -- though I'll try to respond to community members between now and Memorial Day. But it was really kind of those who wrote -- community members and visitors. It was nothing to worry about. Mike went into it in "The Medical Update" yesterday. As he notes, I wouldn't have said what it was for, if I weren't thinking of our 'northern friends' and how they'd be all over the net again talking about my cancer. I wanted to be sure everyone knew it wasn't that. I'm fine. Something wasn't working, it had to be removed. I agreed to stay overnight at the hospital which is something I loathe doing and rarely do. But it wasn't my doctor back home (I wasn't in California, I was in the DC area) so I agreed to that noting I would be checking out in the morning. (Which I did.) I'm a little sore and tender in that area of the abdomen but the pink eye bothers me more. (And I keep pink eye medicine in the refrigerator of all of my homes because I tend to get it very often. Although I haven't had it since 2001, I don't think. Which is probably why I didn't break a Vitamin E capsule and put it in the corner of my eye which, for me, usually stops pink eye if I do that in time. "Probably why" meaning I hadn't had it in awhile so I didn't realize I had it now. Otherwise I have to use the medicine. As I did this morning after I got back from a slower but still intense workout.)
I've been much more open about this than I would be normally (I don't know that I'd even go this much into this in the community newsletters) and that's because I did not want our 'northern friends' again spreading rumors about me in order to advance themselves and up their page 'hits.' I know the return of my cancer a few years back was a nice little audience gainer for them and I wanted to be sure they had nothing to use this go round. (And that's why I've gone into this at length in an entry. I don't intend to talk about the surgery here again.) (And, again, thank you to everyone who wrote in to express sympathy. I am fine, your e-mails were very sweet and made me smile. Thank you.)
The following community sites -- plus Great Britain's Socialist Worker, On The Wilder Side and Antiwar.com -- updated last night and this morning:
We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "RON PAUL WOULD DEFY GOVERNMENT IF IT CONFLICTED WITH CONSCIENCE" (Veterans Today):
Oft-mentioned Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas says in a published interview that he would refuse to serve his country as a medical officer in the Middle East as he did during the Viet Nam war.
Rep. Paul, a doctor, who served as a flight surgeon during Viet Nam, is quoted in the May Esquire magazine as saying, “I often wonder how many of those people I participated in sending over, and so many helicopters went down. For what? For what? The war was totally lost. Totally fruitless. I wouldn't do that today. I would refuse to do that today.”
Rep. Paul's statement does not mean he regarded either war as illegal but that the conflicts were “lost” and “fruitless.” Even so, his statements suggest that he would not serve his country if he believed the struggle in question was contrary to his conscience.
The congressman goes on to blast the Patriot Act, the foreign wars of the Bush-Obama administrations, and even wars of the historic past.
“Whether it was the Spanish-American war or World War I or Vietnam, how many millions of people died, how much wealth was consumed?” he asked John Richardson of Esquire. Richardson says that when Paul said the Constitution called for avoiding foreign entanglements, he got a standing ovation from an audience. “It's time to bring the troops home,” Paul told them to rousing cheers. (A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll reported 59% of Americans want U.S. troops out of Afghanistan now.)
“The President's not supposed to go to war, or be in charge of taxing and spending,” Paul said. “The Founders thought the Congress would always remain the number one of the three branches---that's why it's high on a hill, above the Supreme Court, above the White House,” he continued.
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