Wounded Warrior Assistance Act on the Floor Today

March 28, 2007
Today, the House will consider HR 1538, the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act. The bill addresses the problems brought to light at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military health care facilities by improving access to quality medical care, beginning the process of restoring the integrity and efficiency of the disability evaluation system, taking steps to cut bureaucratic red-tape and improving the transition of wounded service members from the Armed Forces to the VA system.

The exposure of Walter Reed has led to evaluations of other DOD and VA health care facilities -- evaluations showing Walter Reed is not an isolated case. The evaluations by the Department of Veterans Affairs of 1,400 hospitals and other veterans' care facilities "turned up more than 1,000 reports of substandard conditions -- from leaky roofs and peeling paint to bug and bat infestations -- as well as a smaller number of potential threats to patient safety, such as suicide risks in psychiatric wards."

More than 24,000 service members have been wounded in Iraq since the beginning of the war -- with more than 10,500 of those unable to return to duty. As thousands of wounded service members are returning home from Iraq to DOD and VA facilities, much more attention must be focused on meeting the needs of our service members wounded in Iraq.

The Wounded Warrior Assistance Act:

Improves the system of case managers for wounded service members. The bill improves the training and reduces the caseloads of medical care case managers for outpatient wounded service members, so that service members and their families can get the help they need when they need it. For example, the bill requires that case managers for outpatients handle no more than 17 cases and review each case at least once a week to better understand patient needs.

Creates a system of patient advocates. The bill also creates a system of patient advocates for outpatient wounded service members. These advocates are there to fight, when necessary, to ensure that outpatients get the right treatment. The bill limits patient advocates to a caseload of no more than 30 outpatients.

Establishes a toll-free hot line. The bill requires DOD to establish a toll-free hot line for reporting deficiencies in facilities supporting medical patients and family members, requiring rapid responses to remediate substantiated complaints.

Establishes independent medical advocates. The bill also establishes an independent medical advocate to serve as a counselor and advisor for service members being considered by medical evaluation boards.

Calls for improved training. The bill requires DOD to recommend annually improvements in the training of health care professionals, medical care case managers, and patient advocates to increase their effectiveness in assisting recovering wounded warriors. The bill, at a minimum, requires DOD to make recommendations about improving training in the identification of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal tendencies, and other mental conditions among recovering service members.

Creates an Army Wounded Warrior Battalion pilot program. The bill requires the Army to establish an Army Wounded Warrior Battalion pilot program at an installation with a major medical facility modeled after the Wounded Warrior Regiment program in the Marines. The unit is intended to track active-duty soldiers in "outpatient status" who still require medical care.

Begins the process of reforming the disability evaluation system. The bill begins the process of reforming administrative processes in order to restore the integrity and efficiency of the disability evaluation system. For example, the bill requires DOD to establish a standardized training program and curriculum for those involved in the disability evaluation system.

Improves the transition of wounded service members from the Armed Forces to the VA. Finally, the bill takes some substantive steps in reducing the turmoil of being transferred from military to veterans' medical care for service members who are discharged. The bill creates a formal transition process from the Armed Forces to the VA for service members who are being retired or separated for health reasons. The transition is to include an official handoff between the two systems with the electronic transfer of all medical and personnel records before the member leaves active-duty.