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The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to create a new office that will oversee all prosthetics and rehabilitation programs, department officials told Congress on Tuesday.
VA officials want the office to support a national program director and a “large staff” devoted to prosthetics, sensory aide services, and rehabilitation, said Lucille Beck, the Veterans Health Administration’s acting chief consultant for prosthetics services. The office will oversee the procurement, contracting, and development of prosthetics and rehabilitation programs.
“We have a plan now in the approval stages that will give us the resident resources and expertise in one office,” she told the House Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Health that sponsored the oversight hearing on veterans’ prosthetics.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., grilled officials over details concerning the plan. She asked why it made sense to open this office when Congress is focused on cutting costs. In fact, Buerkle called the hearing to discuss most cost-efficient processes to buy prosthetics.
“I do have concerns,” she told Military.com after the hearing. “Where does this plan come from? They said they went to [the Office of Management and Budget] and got approval for it, but what kind of money are we talking about?”
She pointed out this strategy might run counter to the new procurement process. Neither Beck nor Dr. Robert A. Petzel , VA under secretary for health, offered details on the size and costs of the new office.
Petzel said he expected to receive the full plan, including an organizational chart, “very soon.”
In May, members of the subcommittee grilled the VHA over allegations that some of its purchasing agents tried to evade federal contracting rules by splitting purchases.
These purchases included biologics -- medicines and implants made from cadaver-donated tissue and bone -- which VHA arbitrarily defined as prosthetics. The designation enabled VHA purchasing agents to buy the biologics without adhering to federal procurement rules.
Officials on Tuesday told the subcommittee that its agents must follow federal contract rules for procuring biologics. They also testified that the change has not adversely affected veterans.
Philip Matovsky, assistant deputy under secretary for health at VHA, said purchasing agents are still meeting veterans' prosthetic requirements -- as prescribed by doctors.
Buerkle pointed out the priority remains on the veteran receiving the prosthetic he or she needs, and nothing less than that prescribed by clinicians. The VA officials assured the committee that purchasing agents look for the best price, but do not deviate from a doctor’s prescription.
Petzel said he regularly meets with Veterans Service Organizations and just recently held a conference call among six major groups -- the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, AMVETS, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Blind Veterans of America.
He said they support the new procurement process. Buerkle questioned if the VA had the support of Veterans Service Organizations.
“I’ll reach out to the VSOs to make sure they don’t have any additional concerns,” she said.