Good morning, Chairman Michaud and Ranking Member Brown. Thank you for holding today's hearing. I appreciate having the opportunity to be here to discuss the "Veterans Physical Therapy Services Improvement Act."
At the outset, I'd also like to thank the American Physical Therapy Association for their continued leadership on this issue and their support for this important legislation. And, I'd also like to thank the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association for their endorsement of this bill.
The "Veterans Physical Therapy Services Improvement Act," which I introduced on February 12, 2009, along with the original cosponsor support of Health Subcommittee Chairman Michaud, and full Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Filner, will take important steps to expand and improve Department of Veterans' Affairs health care services by improving the ability of veterans to access physical therapy services throughout the VA.
As your Subcommittee knows, the VA is presented today with a unique and challenging patient population. There are large numbers of aging veterans as well as men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with complex impairments. Both of these groups require a full range of physical therapy services that can keep pace with modern advancements and techniques in the field.
I would like to share just a few statistics with you that highlight the need for enhancing physical therapy services and administration at the VA.
Currently, over 1,000 physical therapists are employed by the Veterans Health Administration providing care to our nation's veterans. These physical therapists practice across the continuum of care from primary care settings and wellness programs to disease prevention and post-trauma rehabilitation, and play critical roles in a veteran's care team.
Approximately 9.2 million veterans are age 65 or older (38 percent of veterans) and, by 2033, older veterans will represent 45 percent of the total veterans population. For these older veterans, physical therapists are integral in fall prevention and type 2 diabetes prevention strategies.
Over 33,000 service members have been wounded in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Many of these brave veterans have multiple serious injuries such as amputations and traumatic brain injury (TBI) that require complex rehabilitation provided by physical therapists.
Competition is high for physical therapy graduates. The Department of Labor (DOL) recognizes two health care occupations--nurses and physical therapists--that are experiencing a significant shortage under its labor shortage determination authority. The DOL also projects an increasing need for physical therapists and physical therapist job growth of more than 25 percent over the next decade.
Given the shortage of physical therapists and the increased demand for these services, it is clear that the VA needs to be competitive in the current marketplace to recruit and retain an adequate number of physical therapists to provide services for our nation's brave veterans.
This legislation works to solve this challenge through a number of initiatives.
First, the legislation creates the position of Director of Physical Therapy Services at the Veterans Health Administration. This position would report directly to the Undersecretary for Health. Currently, physical therapists at the VA do not have a seat at the Director-level table. Having a voice at this level will help ensure that, as the profession of physical therapy advances, the VA keeps its requirements up to date with regard to educational requirements, qualifications, clinical privileges and scope of practice.
The legislation also creates the Department of Veterans Affairs Geriatric, Amputee, Polytrauma and Rehabilitation Research Fellowships Program to assist in the recruitment and retention of qualified physical therapists. With strong competition in the marketplace for the services of experienced and qualified physical therapists, the VA needs to be aggressive in recruiting and retaining physical therapists. This fellowship will allow the VA to be more competitive in recruiting and retaining physical therapists that specialize in crucial areas of need such as amputee rehabilitation and polytrauma care.
This legislation also includes requirements that the VA update its degree and license requirements for the appointment of individuals to the physical therapist position. I'm pleased that the VA already has taken some steps to improve its physical therapy policies. The VA has recently approved new regulations that allow VA facilities to use special salary rates, recruitment bonuses, retention allowances and other pay flexibilities to enhance recruitment and retention of physical therapists based on the local labor market. My legislation would help codify these standards.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, this legislation will help ensure veterans have access to the full range of physical therapy services they need and deserve.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to testify. I look forward to answering any questions the committee may have.