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May 25, 2016

Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing on VA-Established CME

On Tuesday, May 24, 2016, the United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing on pending legislation before the Senate. One of the bills discussed was Senate Bill 2049, a bill introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).  S. 2049 is a bill to "establish in the Department of Veterans Affairs a continuing medical education program for non-Department medical professionals who treat veterans and family members of veterans to increase knowledge and recognition of medical conditions common to veterans and family members of veterans, and for other purposes." There is also a companion bill in the house HR 2850 sponsored by Congressman Patrick Tiberi (R-OH).

Panel I Testimony

Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson, offered testimony on the bills and what kind of effect he felt they would have on the VA and its operations. Of S. 2049, however, he spoke highly of it. He mentioned that the "VA supports efforts to share continuing medical education (CME) programs for non-VA medical providers who treat Veterans and their family members under laws administered by VA, and runs several programs of the type referenced in S. 2049." He mentioned the VA-established VHA Training Finder Real-time Affiliate Integrated Network (TRAIN), which is an external learning management system that provides Veteran-focused, accredited CME at no cost to community healthcare providers. VHA TRAIN reports more than 7,600 completions from healthcare and public health providers.

Panel II Testimony

Carlos Fuentes, a Senior Legislative Associate for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), testified as to his opinion on the effectiveness of some of the proposed bills as well. He and VFW both support S. 2049. In his testimony, he stated that passage of such bill would "ensure community care providers who care for veterans and their families understand how to provide veteran-centric care." He further mentioned that more than two thirds of all physicians in the country have received some form of training through the VA healthcare system and that this bill would ensure that the VA is able to continue training both our current, and future, healthcare workforce.

Lou Celli, the National Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation at The American Legion also spoke positively about the legislation, stating that this bill would "ensure effective treatment for veterans who seek their health care outside the VA health care system." He noted that programs created under this legislation would enhance non-VA medical professionals' knowledge of the "medical, mental and physical conditions veterans experience based on their military service, which can represent a unique spectrum when compared to non-veterans."

Adrian Atizado, the Deputy National Legislative Director for Disabled American Veterans (DAV), expressed some concern with the bill as currently written. He is concerned that currently the VA does not provide continuing education credits for its own professional workforce and that current law provides "a discretionary authority for VA to reimburse VA physicians not more than $1,000 per year for obtaining continuing education credits, but does not do so for other professional disciplines." He believes that prohibiting VA professionals from being able to participate in the program laid out in the bill "raises an equity and fairness question in policy." He also mentioned concerns that if thousands of practitioners participate in the proposed program, that it could "become the source of a significant shift in funding from the direct care provided to veterans within the VA, while placing substantial new pressure on VA's already overburdened information technology system." While he did not mention DAV's opposition to the bill, he asked the Committee to address those issues.

Carl Blake, the Associate Executive Director of Government Relations at Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), spoke on behalf of the organization in support of the bill. He noted that veterans suffer from a wide range of medical issues that are not experienced by the vast majority of the American population and that continuing medical education geared toward veterans' issues would help to prepare medical professionals to provide more effective care for veterans.

Overall there was favorable testimony for the VA to dedicate resources towards education of community based clinicians on the needs of Veterans and their families.

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