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Testimony of PVA president Victor S. McCoy Sr. before the Senate and House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, February 28, 1991.

"Chairman Montgomery, Senator Specter, members of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs, and guests of this chamber, my name is Victor McCoy. I am the national president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. I would like to extend my thanks to all of you for this opportunity to join you here today to deliver this testimony.

"On behalf of the membership, the officers, and the staff of PVA, I assure you that today's presentation is considered both an honor and a responsibility for our organization. I also assure you that PVA looks forward to the opportunity to join all of you in efforts to provide for America's veterans.

"Before I begin, I would like to introduce those who join me before you this morning. On my left is Douglas K. Vollmer, PVA's associate executive director for government relations. To my immediate right is Richard D. Hoover, acting executive director and former national president of PVA. To my far right is Richard B. Fuller, PVA national legislative director.

"Allow me to preface my remarks with an extension of PVA's best wishes to Senator Alan Cranston. It is my understanding that he will soon return to Washington; PVA anxiously awaits the opportunity to work with him again.

"I would like to extend our gratitude to Chairman DeConcini, Chairman Montgomery, and the ranking minority members, Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Bob Stump, for your continued commitment to the improvement of veterans' health care and benefit programs. I also would like to extend a warm welcome to the newly elected and reelected members of Congress who have joined the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Your appointments to this committee have come at a particularly critical time in our nation's history.

"Your deliberations and decisions regarding veterans' issues are of added significance, given the reality of our newest group of veterans from the Persian Gulf War. These brave young men and women deserve our attention and our commitment to provide sufficient veterans' benefits, health care, and assistance to all who serve on our nation's behalf.

"Additionally, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of Ed Scott, Mack Fleming, Carl Commentator, Doug Loon, and their respective staff members. Their professional expertise and cooperative spirit have facilitated a vital relationship with PVA through the years.

"This is a day of great rejoicing. With the triumphant end of the war in the Persian Gulf still fresh, we come together today with a renewed sense of victory and hope for those who have served this nation in vigilant patriotism to America. Amid this enthusiasm, we must turn our thoughts to our future veterans through a look at our current veterans' health care and benefit programs system.

"Today we face significant challenges to the health care and services provided to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The demands placed by budget reconciliation seriously threaten VA's ability to realistically continue to meet the needs of an aging and growing population of veterans. Our members, specifically those veterans who suffer from spinal cord injury or dysfunction, are particularly affected by this risk in the reduction of services.

"For these veterans, continuous and specialized services provided through VA spinal cord injury centers are essential to enjoying a productive and healthy life. When such areas are curtailed, via staff reductions or limitation of services, the livelihood of PVA members is severely threatened. Quite frankly, the risks reach dangerous proportions when these veterans are faced with the loss of health care services.

"PVA is committed to continuing its fight for the maintenance and expansion of these health care necessities and benefits for all veterans. We are committed to ensuring quality of care not only in the VA SCI system but also throughout all medical services in VA.

"PVA is committed to continued development of a high-quality spinal cord injury program within VA. We want to join the diligent and faithful leadership of Secretary Derwinski and Deputy Secretary Principi to help bring about the reality of an unprecedented and unparalleled VA SCI program for our nation's disabled veterans.

"In order to achieve this goal of excellence in veterans' SCI treatment and care, we must recognize and incorporate a strong sense of commonality among veterans' service organizations, the United State Congress, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The united spirit of these three entities will provide the energy necessary to tackle recurring budgetary constraints and other ongoing problems that confront VA. Ultimately, we can bring about solutions and initiatives to aid our struggling national veterans' health care and benefit programs.

"Let me reiterate PVA's concern regarding the current ability of VA's health care system to provide quality care to disabled veterans. We join our nation in hoping that all men and women serving in Operation Desert Storm will return home safely. However, our concerns about VA's ability to provide services are heightened at the prospect of a possible need for VA to provide care for an increased number of disabled veterans and active-duty personnel, especially those in need of specialized care.

"As the result of concern generated by the Persian Gulf crisis, VA has indicated that SCI treatment is a medical specialty that must receive concentrated consideration when planning alternative proposals for dealing with the ever-changing dynamics of health care and health care needs. Although we may reassuringly turn our focus from the uncertainty of Persian Gulf casualties and the impact they would have on the VA medical system, we must not turn away from the notion that SCI care must receive special consideration from VA as an ailing medical specialty within the system.

"Unfortunately most private-sector facilities do not have spinal cord injury programs that compare in quality and scope to VA services. Thus, veterans who have a spinal cord injury or dysfunction are more reliant than ever upon VA for the services and treatment they require.

"We are additionally concerned about the longer-term impact of VA medical-personnel reservists who have been called to serve in the Gulf. The void created by the absence of medical personnel, particularly in specialized facilities such as spinal cord injury centers, dramatically affects VA's ability to provide care.

"It is my understanding that more than 3,000 VA health professionals have been called to reservist duty to date. In most cases, these professionals have not been replaced by qualified staff to maintain a comparable level of care for veterans currently receiving treatment.

"Given this reality, when taken with the facts of nationwide nursing shortages throughout the medical arena and the limited number of physicians with expertise in spinal cord care, PVA's concern for the care of its veterans is amplified. It is critical that Congress plan now for potential long-term ramifications of these shortages.

"In addition to potential challenges faced by VA as a result of Operation Desert Storm, PVA has become increasingly concerned about the ability of VA to provide quality care to SCI veterans undergoing current treatment. Staff shortages due to realities beyond the reservist situation, such as the lack of recruitment of new medical personnel, the closing of beds in centers throughout the nation, and the general decline in the overall programs for SCI treatment and care, have brought to light some serious topics that I bring to your attention today.

"The lack of recruitment of new medical personnel in spinal cord injury care is of serious concern to PVA. The current fellowship program, available through VA Academic Affairs, has failed as a mechanism to attract medical professionals in this field. VA needs to integrate and coordinate, through the director of spinal cord injury programs, to better develop and implement a program designed to encourage interest in this medical specialty.

"The inadequacies of the fellowship program require quick resolution by VA, and should changes not occur or address critical medical specialties, we believe Congress must address this growing crisis. With one in six SCI medical physicians approaching retirement age, now is the time to place recruitment of new staff high on the list of SCI-related priorities.

"Bed closings are another concern that stems from the ongoing problem involving staff shortages in spinal cord injury facilities. Throughout our nation, SCI centers such as those in Seattle, WA, and Hines, IL, have been forced to close beds because of a lack of adequate staff. In the case of the Hines VA Medical Center, the entire SCI ward was closed. This translates into not only a decrease in the general availability of SCI treatment for our veterans but also a decline in local accessibility for such treatment.

"We must demand that sufficient staff levels be restored to reopen beds that have been closed and to reestablish programs and services provided in local areas such as Hines. We cannot stand for a decline in programs at the expense of the men and women who have served our nation well.

"Now is the time to revisit a consideration PVA proposed to you three years ago as a possible alternative to overcoming the problem of staff shortages. I echo a previous cry for the recognition of Canadian Medical Board Certifications as identical with similar American certifications for the purposes of equivalent pay under the VA system. This possibility may bring much-needed medical recruits to the VA medical community.

"Most importantly, we must pay attention to the overall decline in SCI treatment and care. We must ask ourselves, Why is it that replacements and transfers in spinal cord injury staff have not been made? Why is it that recruitment of medical personnel has not been placed at the top of VA's priority list? Why are new SCI centers opening in places like San Diego, CA, and Alburqueque, NM, but left to operate at only half their capacities because of staff-level inadequacies? And why are beds closing throughout the nation while SCI admissions are on the increase?

"We must all search for the answers to these troubling questions. It is my hope that together, all of us here today can seek out and implement equitable solutions to this crisis in spinal cord injury care.

"VA has suggested a variety of legislative initiatives in its budget proposal for fiscal year 1992. Although I have commenced in greater detail on these initiatives in our written statement, I will highlight a few that are of particular significance for PVA.

"I strongly urge you to reject VA's proposal that limits beneficiary travel to veterans living 50 or more miles from a VA facility. This measure proposes a profound hardship on many of PVA's members. When the realities of this proposal are coupled with the copayments imposed by last year's reconciliation laws, a veteran falling into the 'discretionary workload' category who lives 30 to 40 miles from the nearest VA facility will be forced to shoulder an unfair portion of the deficit-reduction program.

"For many veterans who rely so heavily upon the VA hospitals to which they must travel for service, this initiative deals a substantial blow. We urge you to promote the right of veterans to available means of access to care by rejecting this restrictive Department of Veterans Affairs beneficiary-travel-program proposal.

"VA has also proposed to reform dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for the survivors of service-connected veterans. PVA believes that this sort of reform is long overdue. We agree that a formula based on military rank is unfair to the vast majority of recipients. However, we strongly oppose the flatrate formula recommended by VA.

"A truly equitable DIC formula must take into consideration the veteran's degree of disability and the loss of family income at the time of the veteran's death. It is my hope that PVA can work closely with all of you to find a solution to this issue that recognizes the needs and contributions of the survivors of our nation's veterans.

"Finally, PVA is pleased with a number of the decisions made by the Court of Veterans' Appeals. If properly implemented by the secretary, they will insure America's veterans of fair treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This optimism has been tarnished, however, by the court's continued insistence on severely restricting the practice of qualified nonattorney claims-representatives. We are likewise concerned by the court's failure, as yet, to award one penny of monetary benefits to veterans.

"I would like to encourage all of you to visit PVA's 'American Portraits: America's Veterans' exhibit, on display in the rotunda on the second floor of the Cannon Building. The exhibit is the result of thousands of photographs sent to PVA by the families of men and women who have made up our brave and honored armed forces over the years. It encompasses vivid pictorials from the oldest of battles, in the Civil War, to the newest of memories, in Operation Desert Storm. It is a visual history that I am certain will make you proud of those who have served in defense of our country.

"PVA will continue its efforts to insure maximum benefits and quality health care for America's veterans. Your support and assistance in the coming year for proposals and initiatives that help our veterans to lead equitable and independent lives is key to the future of all veterans' programs.

"You have my commitment that PVA will stand beside you in all future endeavors that reinforce our belief that the energies and talents given by American servicemen and women to this great nation of ours must be returned in quality programs from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In our recognition of these long-felt struggles, we must realize that the veteran's battle continues in the fight for health care, benefits, and assistance from our government.

"I ask each of you here today to carve out your role in our coming efforts and prepare yourself from what lies ahead. I am confident that our unity can result in a better future for veterans and their families nationwide.

"I thank you again for you unwavering support for our cause, and I welcome any opportunity we may have to come together again."

BOD Meeting

The 1991 Midwinter Board of Directors Meeting adjourned late on Wednesday, February 27, 1991. The lateness of the hour was a signal of the activity and the fervor that accompanied the entire three days of meetings. The board accomplished much during its semiannual gathering to set forth a course and a vision for PVA.

I am prouder than ever to serve at the helm of this organization. The leadership of PVA is committed to ensuring accountability and the highest standards of quality in all our operations and efforts. Our board of directors takes seriously its role in helping to mold and shape an entity designed to provide unparalleled and unprecedented service to our nation's disabled veterans.

Each of you was represented well by your chapter's national directors. Delegates were vocal in raising suggestions and concerns. This indicated that thoughts of their members were foremost throughout the formation of policy and directives for the national organization as a whole. All of you can be reassured that your input and interests were well-integrated into this most important meeting.

A number of crucial issues were brought to light. I urge you to read carefully the article in this issue regarding the resolutions presented and approved by the board of directors ("Washington Week '91"). My testimony before a joint hearing of the US Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs (above) highlights current and ongoing legislative issues of concern to our organization. I am confident you will agree that PVA has set a course for itself that holds one priority above all the rest: to diligently and actively seek to provide our members--and all veterans--with the finest-quality health care and benefit programs, which they so rightfully deserve.

I would like to publicly thank all members of the board of directors and the Executive Committee and the National Office staff for their unwavering support on this occasion. I am certain that, given these representatives, PVA will forge ahead, stronger than ever in its efforts on behalf of our nation's veterans.

I look forward to continuing to serve you as your national president and hope that I can provide whatever assistance you may require. Please do not hesitate to call upon any of the leadership of PVA. Service is not only our mission; it is our commitment to you.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Paralyzed Veterans of America
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McCoy, Victor, Sr.
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Galleon treasure.
Next Article:Washington Week '91.

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