Chairwoman Wasserman Shultz Statement at Impacts of VA's Research Efforts on Veterans Hearing

2022-05-11 13:43

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Impacts of VA's Research Efforts on Veterans Hearing: 

Today’s hearing will give us a chance to review VA’s research efforts and how they impact veterans. 

I am pleased to welcome for the first time before the subcommittee Dr. Rachel Ramoni, Chief Research and Development Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She is accompanied by Dr. Patricia Hastings, Chief Consultant for the Health Outcomes Military Exposures program at VA, who we welcome back. 

We are glad to have you both here with us today to share your insights on the various research efforts VA undertakes to improve the health of its veterans.

The research programs at VA are a critical part of sustaining the world-class care that veterans deserve and have come to rely on.

These efforts allow VA to stay on the cutting edge of new treatments, develop and test improved medical devices, and enhance our understanding of the medical conditions and injuries that affect veterans.

As veterans live longer and recover from injuries that may have been fatal in decades past, these programs are critical to ensure that VA has the tools and treatments it needs to give veterans not only the best medical care, but the best possible quality of life.  

I’ve long admired VA’s work in areas like improved prosthetics and spinal cord research that help veterans recover from the types of injuries that unfortunately are far too prevalent among our servicemembers.

But there’s another area that I’m glad to see VA doing more in, and that deals with developing a better understanding of how military service can affect veterans in ways that are less immediately obvious than a limb loss or other external injury.

First, I’m really pleased to see VA’s focus on mental health and brain health within the research program, including both traumatic brain injury, which is an area that we have come to realize plays a significant role in long-term health effects, as well as suicide prevention and other mental health needs.

And second, an area that is so critical to veterans of multiple generations is that of toxic exposures during military service.

From Agent Orange to burn pits to PFAS, far too often our servicemembers and their families are exposed to dangerous chemicals as part of their military service, and the frightening reality is, we don’t always see the health effects right away.

But they come back years later in the form of cancers, breathing problems, and neurological conditions, to name a few, and the only way to understand how these conditions are connected to military service is by doing the research and the population studies.

So, I am very glad to see that is an area of focus in Fiscal Year 2023 in both Dr. Ramoni’s efforts at the Office of Research and Development, and in Dr. Hastings’s work at the Health Outcomes Military Exposures program – otherwise known as the HOME program.

The Fiscal Year 2023 budget request for the Medical and Prosthetic Research account addresses a number of priority areas that have been of great interest to the Committee, and I am glad to see the continued recognition of the importance of the research program.

Investing in VA’s research program has been a top priority for me, and for many members on both sides of the aisle, and we have been able to make significant investments in this program over the past several years.

In Fiscal Year 2022, we provided $882 million, an increase of $67 million over the prior year’s funding, and the largest year-to-year increase in recent history. 

This year’s request of $916 million is an increase of $34 million over last year’s funding.

I look forward to hearing what your plans are for this program in Fiscal Year 2023, and how this funding would be used to make progress for veterans.

I also look forward to the chance to discuss some of the overarching work of the research program and other related efforts at VA. 

So, thank you both for being here today to discuss these important issues.

117th Congress