The National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics (NAAOP) has issued the following statement about the Injured and Amputee Veterans Bill of Rights:
VA Bill of Rights Reintroduced
On February 16, 2011, Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, reintroduced the bipartisan Injured and Amputee Veterans Bill of Rights in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new bill number is H.R. 805, and the bill was referred to the Veterans Affairs Committee, now chaired by Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL).
H.R. 805 is identical to H.R. 5428, the same bill passed by the House in December 2010. Unfortunately, time ran out on the 111th Congress, resulting in the Senate not having time to act on the legislation. However, with the reintroduction of the bill so early in the 112th Congress, Congressman Filner has signaled his strong interest in moving this legislation as soon as possible. In addition, the Injured and Amputee Veterans Bill of Rights continues to have significant bipartisan support in the 112th Congress.
What the Bill Does
H.R. 805 would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to post a list of “rights” that apply to every veteran in need of orthotic and prosthetic care. The list would be posted in every VA O&P clinic across the country as well as on the VA website. The list of rights would be codified in statute and would include the right to appropriate O&P technology, the right to a private practitioner of choice, the right to have the VA provide a second opinion as to prosthetic care options, and the right for a veteran to have a functional spare prosthesis or orthosis, to name a few.
Meeting with Congressman Filner and VA Officials
On Tuesday of this week, Tom Guth, CP, NAAOP president; George Breece, NAAOP executive director; and Peter Thomas, general counsel, met with Congressman Filner and several officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Included in the meeting were Fred Downs, who headed the VA’s Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service (PSAS) for nearly 30 years, as well as the current acting director of the PSAS, Lucielle Beck, MD, PhD. The meeting was intended to be a constructive dialogue to explore the VA’s concerns with this legislation and to attempt to convince the VA to either support the bill or to offer specific amendments to the legislative language that would prompt them to support it.
Unfortunately, after some initial dialogue, it was clear there would be no meeting of the minds. The meeting ended without any agreements but with a renewed enthusiasm from Ranking Member Filner to proceed with his legislation. NAAOP representatives had an opportunity to speak with the VA officials after the meeting and agreed to continue a constructive dialogue on the importance of the issues contained in the VA Bill of Rights on behalf on injured and amputee veterans.
Meeting with Republican Staff for House VA Committee
NAAOP then met with senior Republican staff for Chairman Miller to make our case for movement of this legislation in the 112th Congress. We were gratified to hear that issues involving O&P treatment of injured and amputee veterans are a priority of theirs as well, and that they intend to address these issues in some manner this year. NAAOP made the case that H.R. 805 may not address all the concerns in this area but is a significant advance forward and should be passed by the House expeditiously. Republican staff assured NAAOP they were focusing on this area, would be pursuing additional issues of concern, and would give the VA Bill of Rights every consideration.
VA Committee Report Issued on H.R. 5428
Also this week, the House VA Committee released the written report on a VA hearing held in September 2010 where the VA Bill of Rights was considered. A number of Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project, stated their position on the bill. Most of these organizations support the legislation but some urged Congress to go further in expanding a Bill of Rights to all veterans or including services other than O&P. NAAOP will be meeting with these groups again over the coming months to attempt to build greater support for H.R. 805 in the 112th Congress.
NAAOP Meets with Senate VA Committee
Following the House meetings, NAAOP representatives met with the Senate Democratic staff of new Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman, Patty Murray (D-WA). Senior health staff on the VA Committee are very familiar with this bill for two reasons. First, the bill has now been introduced three times in four years, in the 110th, 111th, and 112th Congresses. Second, this bill passed the House last December, which elevates the bill to a new level of stature. With thousands of bills introduced each year and with a very small percentage actually being passed by either the House or Senate, passage of a bill, even if it is not ultimately enacted, brings credibility to the legislation. This was evident in our meeting with the Senate VA Committee.
Senate staff pledged to further analyze the legislation and provide any comment on the substance of the bill early this year. NAAOP’s strategy is to press for a vote in the House and then work with the Senate to have the bill attached to a larger piece of VA legislation later this year. NAAOP does not intend to have a separate Senate bill introduced. However, it is very important to build support in the Senate, particularly with members of the Senate VA Committee.