WASHINGTON, March 27 — The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense continue to have problems collecting and sharing medical data, hampering treatment for wounded soldiers, lawmakers said at a Congressional hearing today.
The hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was a follow-up to a January hearing where officials of the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration, which are two separate government departments, said that significant progress had been made in collecting and sharing data on wounded soldiers.
But it also comes a little over a month after V.A. officials complained bitterly to Congress that the Pentagon was blocking their access to medical information.
Witnesses told lawmakers today of frustrations with lost medical records, a lack of communication between federal and state V.A. offices and a medical system that still has not adjusted to the demands of younger veterans.
L. Tammy Duckworth, an Army major who lost both her legs in Iraq, said the V.A. has not kept up with the latest technology in prosthetics. Though addressing the needs of older veterans, the department is still not prepared to handle the needs of younger and more active veterans, she said.
“There is simply not enough time for the Department of Veterans Affairs to catch up in the field in time to adequately serve the new amputees,” said Ms. Duckworth, who is the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Denise Mettie described the suffering experienced by her son, Evan Mettie, a retired Army specialist, who sustained severe traumatic brain injury in Iraq in 2006 and over the past year has been moved from facility to facility while being prevented from getting better care in private and specialized clinics.
”There are many private hospitals which have many years of experience in treating and rehabilitating patients like my son,” she said. “It is unfair to deny us access to the same level of care that you would choose for your children.”
But Dr. Michael J. Kussman, the executive-in-charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said his department was well-prepared to handle new strains.
“There is a learning curve as far as new prosthetics,” he said. “But as far as other needs, we have been the international experts when it comes to things like post traumatic stress disorder and we have actually been leading the country in regards to traumatic brain injury.”
He described how the V.A. has teams of social workers based at a handful of military treatment facilities to help soldiers navigate the bureaucracy, and said his department was still working with Defense Department officials to gain regular access to certain military medical records.
Some senators were not convinced.
“I’ve just about had it with administration officials who assure us everything is being taken care of,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat from Washington, complaining that the lack of information was limiting Congress’s ability to determine the appropriate budget and priorities required to address veterans’ needs.
“We can’t get full answers on the number of service members treated for traumatic brain injury. We can’t get accurate projections on how many veterans will need inpatient mental health care. We can’t even get accurate figures on the number of amputations.”
Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, pushed for quicker action to correct the problems.
“How many real life experiences do we have to list before you do away with the work groups and studies and implement something?” he asked. “We’re dealing with something that doesn’t need more study.”