Joe Wilson, deputy director of The American Legion's Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, testified Jan. 21 before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The topic was "Transitioning Heroes: New Era, Same Problems?" and Wilson shared the Legion's views on seamless transition issues for servicemembers.
Following are paraphrased highlights from his testimony:
• The challenges many returning veterans face include incomplete Post Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA) questionnaires, the inability of the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to share fully the medical records of servicemembers, the lack of space at VA medical facilities, and shortage of VA staff (including nurses and physicians).
• The American Legion contends that closer oversight must be placed upon various programs, such as PDHRA and the Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP).
• The transition from active duty to the civilian world is critically important because many health conditions suffered by servicemembers may go undiagnosed for some time. This is why PDHRA was established - to monitor over time the health concerns of veterans.
• A recent audit disclosed that about 23 percent of 319,000 veterans returning from OEF/OIF had no PDHRA questionnaires filled out and on file. Apparently, DoD does not currently have reasonable assurance that its troops are given the opportunity to fill out the questionnaires.
• The American Legion believes that proper PDHRA administration is essential to the success of a servicemember's transition, because the information gathered can disclose telltale signs of debilitating illnesses, such as depression, PTSD, mood disorders, TBI and spinal cord injuries.
• The American Legion also wants assurance that FRCP is assisting all recovering veterans and servicemembers who suffer from severe wounds, illnesses and injuries, while assisting their family members as well.
• According to recent VA reports, the greatest challenge for federal recovery coordinators is the integration of IT access within the VA and the Military Training Facility. The American Legion wants to know the current status of IT integration and medical record-sharing between DoD and VA.
• During its 2009 site visits to VA facilities, The American Legion discovered system-wide challenges in meeting the needs of returning veterans. Critical issues include lack of sufficient staff to handle increasing workloads, lack of support for family members caring for severely injured veterans, and difficulty in reaching out to veterans recently separated from active duty who may be suffering illnesses/disorders.
• About 49 percent of women veterans continue to split their health care between VA and the private sector; this cannot be characterized as "successful transition." Some VA facilities lack sufficient space for women veterans clinics. Common deterrents for women veterans include the lack of day care for their children, and inadequate VA outreach that causes some clinics to be underutilized. Many veterans, both men and women, are currently missing VA appointments because childcare is not available.
• Recently, The American Legion passed Resolution No. 29, "Improvements to Implement a Seamless Transition," which recognizes gaps in transitional services for veterans. DoD and VA need to develop a more expeditious process, and the Legion urges heightened interaction between the two agencies - most importantly, completely shared access of veterans' medical records.
• The American Legion urges the careful oversight of effective communication between DoD and VA, to ensure that no returning veteran is left behind in the transition process.