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Testimony Details Pentagon, VA Plans for Wounded Warriors

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2009 – The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are working together to address the needs of wounded warriors, defense officials told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.

Gail H. McGinn, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, charted what she called the “lines of action” the departments are following to improve care for servicemembers wounded in action.

McGinn said one effort is to develop and establish a joint disability evaluation system for the Defense Department and VA “using one integrated disability rating system that is seamless, transparent and administered jointly by both departments,” she said. “That system must remain flexible to evolve and update as trends in injuries and supporting medical documentation and treatment necessitates.”

Servicemembers had complained bitterly about the time taken under the dual-department system. This action serves to streamline the transition process for the servicemembers leaving the Defense Department system for the VA, McGinn said.

The second line of action looks at traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. McGinn said those working this line are addressing “improvements in consistency and capability surrounding TBI and psychological health across the full continuum of care within [the Defense Department] and VA.” Defense and VA officials are working together on research into the injuries and ways to continuously improve methods of care, she added.

Case and care management are a third line of action. The organizations are coordinating medical and nonmedical care, rehabilitation, benefits and delivery of services and support, she said. This will effectively guide and facilitate servicemembers, veterans, their families and caregivers throughout the entire continuum of care.

Another line of action is data sharing between the two departments. This, McGinn said, has been a long-term goal that well pre-dates the current wars. The idea is to “ensure appropriate demographic, personnel, and medical information on service members, veterans, and their family members is visible, accessible and understandable through secure and interoperable [Defense Department] and VA information management systems,” McGinn explained.

Revelations about substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here spurred a tough examination of facilities in both departments. One line of action in the current effort ensures facilities deliver the care servicemembers and veterans have earned and deserve, McGinn said.

Another line of action looks to combine quality care with a compassionate, fair, timely and nonadversarial disability adjudication process, she said. This line looks at developing an “ideal process” for providing care and benefits to wounded warriors, veterans and their families. “The ideal process will not be constrained by current laws, policies, regulations, organizations, infrastructure or resources,” McGinn said.

Another line will look to legislative solutions. This group will coordinate the development of comprehensive legislation that will provide the best possible care and treatment for wounded warriors and their families.

Finally, there is a line of action to ensure each seriously wounded, ill or injured servicemember has a level of compensation, benefits and financial support to maintain their dignity and support their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration, McGinn told the House panel.

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Gail H. McGinn

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