Rep. Buerkle: VA, DoD must 'bridge gap' in wounded warrior care

Friday - 5/20/2011, 5:03pm EDT

Rep. Anne Marie Buerkle (D-N.Y.)

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

It's been four years since the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs launched the Federal Recovery Coordinator Program, designed to expedite the process for wounded vets to get the care and services they need.

But one lawmaker says the two agencies are operating too independently of each other to make the program successful.

In opening remarks last week at the House Veteran's Affairs Subcommittee on Health, chairman Rep. Anne Marie Buerkle (D-N.Y.) said, "It appears that rather than having the joint program envisioned by the Commission to advocate on behalf of wounded warriors and ensure comprehensive and seamless rehabilitation, recovery, and transition, we have two separate programs - a VA program that utilizes Federal Recovery Coordinators and a DoD program that utilizes Recovery Care Coordinators."

The intent of the program was to "bridge that gap," Buerkle said in an interview with In Depth.

She said she was "dismayed" that the two agencies are "just talking about things and it seems like nothing's being done."

"Time is of the essence for these men and women coming out of the service and making that transition," she added.

A March 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office found the program still faces "significant challenges." One of those challenges is neither DoD nor VA's health IT systems classify servicemembers and vets as "severely wounded, ill, and injured," the report said. Therefore, it's unclear to determine who is in need of the FRCP referrals.

Buerkle said her main concern with the GAO report was that recommendations were directed at VA alone, and not both VA and DoD.

"The intent in this law was to have a joint program so the transition is seamless for our military," she said.

The hearing last week included VA and DoD outlining specific steps they would take to improve the program.

"That's the beauty of these hearings. It creates a record. Here's what was promised and now we need to have it delivered on," Buerkle said.

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