THE HONORABLE ROBERT H. ROSWELL, M.D.
UNDER SECRETARY FOR HEALTH
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS
VA'S PROGRESS IN DEVELOPING A MEDICAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING PROGRAM
ON THE MEDICAL RESPONSES TO THE CONSEQUENCES OF TERRORIST ACTIVITY
April 10, 2003
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to be here to testify before the Subcommittee on the progress in the development of the medical education and training program mandated by section 3 of Public Law 107-287, the Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Preparedness Act of 2002. With me today is Dr. Susan Mather, VA's Chief Officer for Public Health and Environmental Hazards.
Implementation of section 3 of Public Law 107-287 has progressed more slowly than had been anticipated, due in large part to the uncertainty concerning language in VA's FY 2003 appropriations bill. Section 117 of H.R. 5605, as reported by the House, included language that would have prohibited the use of FY 2003 appropriations for implementation of all provisions of H.R. 3253, which was subsequently signed into law as Public Law 107-287. However, the final language enacted on February 20, 2003, prohibited the use of funds provided for FY 2003 for implementation of only sections 2 and 5 of Public Law 107-287. Accordingly, VA is now actively pursuing implementation of section 3, as well as the other, "non-prohibited" provisions.
Section 3 requires VA to carry out a program to develop and disseminate a series of model education and training programs on the medical responses to the consequences of terrorist activities. That section further requires these programs to be modeled after programs established at DoD's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences ( USUHS). At a minimum, these programs shall include emergency preparedness training for health care professionals. They must also include, among other things, (1) training in the recognition of chemical, biological, radiological, incendiary, or other explosive agents, weapons, or devices that may be used in terrorist activities; and (2) identification of potential symptoms related to use of those agents, weapons, or devices. The training would also be required to address short-term and long-term health consequences, including psychological effects that may result from exposure to such agents and the appropriate treatment of those health consequences. The programs must be designed for a wide range of VA health care professionals in a variety of fields.
While the primary mission of the Veterans Health Administration ( VHA) is to provide health care to our nation's veterans, it also has a mission to provide education and training for health care professionals. VHA conducts the largest coordinated education and training effort for health care professionals in the nation. In this regard, VHA has affiliations with 107 medical schools and over 1,200 educational institutions. In FY 2002, over 76,000 students received clinical training in VA facilities. VHA provides educational services that are customer-based, accessible, performance measured, cost-effective and lead to the accomplishment of VA's organizational goals and objectives - providing high-quality health care and services to our nation's veterans.
Mr. Chairman, VA has committed to preparing its field administrators and health care providers to effectively respond and manage the challenges of terrorism, and we have made great strides to prepare VA employees for terrorism and emergency related crises. We have provided several educational and training opportunities to educate employees in the event of another terrorist attack. We have developed satellite broadcasts covering biological and chemical warfare issues and other educational tools and programs for those who may be charged to render care for victims of terrorist incidents. We have collaborated with the Department of Defense on several joint educational initiatives. We also have the capability, through our education infrastructure, to share the programs that we produce with others. A listing of national initiatives that have been made available to VA employees is included on the Attachment to this statement.
As the Congress has recognized, it is critical that education and training programs be designed for a wide range of health care professionals. To that end, the involvement of education and training experts and representatives of health care professions at all levels is essential in developing a comprehensive education response. We have already had preliminary meetings with representatives from USUHS to explore collaborative endeavors. VA has also developed an implementation plan, which we recently sent to the Subcommittee, and we will be meeting with USUHS representatives again to discuss the development of educational tools, materials, and programs that would be mutually beneficial to both parties. We further intend to assemble a committee of experts to develop a plan to address priority educational needs through the use of multiple modalities consistent with section 3 of Public Law 107-287.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. Dr. Mather and I will be happy to respond to any questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee might have.