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Before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Health Regarding VA Medical Care: “The Crown Jewel and Best Kept Secret"

May 19 , 2009

Good afternoon, Chairman Michaud, Ranking Member Brown, and members of this distinguished subcommittee. On behalf of the members of Vietnam Veterans of America and our families, I am pleased to offer VVA’s views on outreach activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA, by any standard, does an entirely inadequate job of reaching out to veterans and their families to inform them of the benefits to which they are entitled by virtue of their service, and health conditions that may derive from their time in service. I can’t tell you how many calls and e-mails we get from veterans, or their loved ones, with questions about illnesses that may be associated with their exposure to Agent Orange (dioxin) during their tour of duty in Vietnam. I can’t tell you how many times, when we meet with veterans and talk about health and healthcare issues, we are greeted with something akin to astonishment because no one has ever mentioned this to them before.

Almost 80 percent of veterans do not use the VA for their health care. While most veterans have insurance that enables them, and their families, to go to private physicians of their choice, many of these folks are only a paycheck or two away from losing their insurance. Posters that decorate walls and pamphlets that populate kiosks at VA medical centers and outpatient clinics do not reach these folks. Nor do the video productions that are supposed to be run on televisions in the waiting areas of these facilities: Veterans waiting to be seen by a clinician watch CNN, or ESPN, or Oprah.

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