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Veteran's Medical Issues

(Press release provided courtesy of the Presidental Task Force on Veterans Health Care)

ARLINGTON, VA, May 28, 2003 - The President's Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation's Veterans (PTF) handed President George W. Bush a final report its 15 members believe will address a challenge the federal government has faced for more than 20 years.

Building on an Interim Report submitted in July 2002, the final report identifies leadership commitment, the transition from military to veteran status, barriers to collaboration, and timely access to health care as areas the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) need to address.

"We've come a long way in 18 months," said Dr. Gail R. Wilensky, PTF co-chair. "Our report provides the President, the Congress, VA, and DOD with solid recommendations on accountability, collaboration, and easing the transition from military to civilian life. We believe this report is the strongest response yet to problems the Congress first raised in 1982."

"The President asked us to examine the barriers to greater collaboration between VA and DOD," said Co-Chair John Paul Hammerschmidt, who served in Congress for 26 years, all of them on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Our recommendations, if implemented, will further the missions of both VA and DOD. The men and women who have served their Nation also will like what we've done. They're the reason the President created the Task Force, and the motivation for all the hard work."

"Collaboration between VA and DOD can't be an afterthought," he said. "Leadership of the two departments will need to communicate clearly what they want, when they want it, and what will happen if they don't get it. And collaboration can't be an end in itself, but a means to improving access to health care."

"The evidence told us that without addressing the mismatch between the demand for VA health care and the resources available, significant progress in collaboration and sharing between VA and DOD would be impossible," Dr. Wilensky said. "The Task Force has performed a great service in calling attention to that fact, but we are calling for much more."

"We're calling for a seamless transition from military to VA health care," she said. "Whether someone serves four years or 30 years in the military, there should not be long delays in receiving VA benefits. To make that transition seamless, VA and DOD should have electronic medical record systems that can communicate freely with each other. We're also calling for one standard separation physical exam and improved assistance to determine eligibility for disability compensation and VA health care."

PTF Members and staff conducted 19 public meetings, 24 site visits, regular briefings of top VA and DOD officials, hundreds of data requests, roundtables with veteran and military organizations, and an exhaustive review of existing literature before writing its 129-page final report. Among highlights of the PTF Final Report are recommendations that:

Congressman Hammerschmidt replaced original co-chair Congressman Gerald B. Solomon, who passed away on October 26, 2001, two weeks after the first PTF hearing. Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon had already delayed the first hearing by a month.

The other 13 PTF Members are Everett Alvarez; C. Ross Anthony, Ph.D.; Terry Clark, M.D.; Mack Fleming; Susan DeWire Hosek; Robert Krasner, M.D.; S. Anthony McCann; Arthur Porter, M.D.; Susan Schwartz, DBA, RN; Robert Spanogle; Robert Wallace; Harry Walters; and Josh Weston.

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