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Dole, Shalala Testify At House Committee Hearing On Veterans' Health Care

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Veterans' Health Care

Leaders of a presidential commission on Wednesday during a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing urged Congress to pass legislation that would make "fundamental changes" in veterans' health care, the Washington Times reports (Lengell, Washington Times, 9/20). President Bush in March named former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a disabled veteran of World War II, and University of Miami President and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala as co-chairs of the commission (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 7/26).

Membersof the commission expressed the need for diagnosis and treatment ofpost-traumatic stress disorder in veterans who fought in Iraq andAfghanistan, saying that care should be given regardless of theduration between return from war and development of symptoms. Thecommission also recommended shifting more responsibility for awardingbenefits from the Defense Department to the Department of Veterans Affairs,which the commission said would allow for a better-coordinated system,reducing bureaucracy for veterans applying for disability benefits(Lengell, Washington Times, 9/20).

In July, thenine-member commission issued a report recommending changes -- most ofwhich require action by the White House, Pentagon or VA -- includingincreasing benefits for family members caring for injured veterans,creating a Web site for medical records and revamping the waydisability pay is awarded. Recommendations regarding raising somedisability benefits, improving PTSD care and strengthening work-leaveand insurance benefits for family members require congressional action.

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The Senate has passed legislation that is awaiting action inthe House. The House is considering adopting some additionalrecommendations by the commission (Yen, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/19).

Atthe hearing, Dole said, "Wars change, people change, techniques change,injuries change, and we need to keep our military and veterans' healthcare system up to date." Shalala said, "The consequences of PTSD can bedevastating," adding, "Therefore, we ask that any veteran of the Iraqor Afghanistan conflicts be able to obtain prompt access to the VA'sextensive resources for diagnosis and treatment." She also said, "Manyfamilies are caring for their injured service member at home, and manyof these service members have complex injuries," adding, "Families areunprepared to provide 24-7 care. Those that try wear out quickly" (Washington Times, 9/20).

IT Security

The VA security system is still lax, leaving veterans' personal dataand health information at risk of identity theft, according to a reportreleased Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office, the AP/Boston Heraldreports. The department's computer network and physical facilities donot have secure access, according to the report, nor can the VAguarantee that the only changes and updates made to computer programsare authorized. The VA pledged to increase security measures after acomputer drive containing the names, Social Security numbers and birthdates of 26.4 million members of the military was stolen from a VAemployee's home in Maryland in May 2006 (AP/Boston Herald, 9/20).

Thedepartment has failed to meet 20 of the 22 recommendations GAO and theVA's inspector general made last year, according to the report. Thereport stated, "Because these recommendations have not yet beenimplemented, unnecessary risk exists that the personal information ofveterans and others, such as medical providers, will be exposed to datatampering, fraud and inappropriate disclosure" (CongressDaily, 9/20).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.