Durbin, Duckworth Introduce Bill To Support Wounded Warriors

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) have introduced a bill to help wounded warriors by expanding the current orthotics and prosthetics workforce. The Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act would support colleges and universities seeking to establish or expand degree programs to train orthotics and prosthetics specialists.  

“The men and women who serve our country and suffer serious injuries should expect nothing less than the highest standard of care when they come home,” said Durbin.  “Senator Duckworth and I have seen the work Illinois researchers and scientists can do in the field of orthotics and prosthetics, and to say it’s remarkable would be an understatement. We should be doing everything we can to advance this groundbreaking work, which supports America’s heroes.”

“Far too many Veterans who sacrificed limbs for our country experience frustrating delays in their care because of the shortage of qualified orthotics and prosthetics specialists,” Duckworth said. “This legislation will help make sure our workforce is better prepared to meet the needs of Veteran amputees. I’m proud to be working with Senator Durbin to address this issue.”

The Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act authorizes a competitive grant program to help colleges and universities develop or expand master’s degree programs focusing on orthotics and prosthetics. Each institution receiving one of these grants will require students to rotate through facilities run by the Departments of Veterans Affairs or Defense, or that hold VA contracts.  The bill also requires the VA to establish a Center of Excellence in Prosthetic and Orthotic Education to provide evidence-based research on the knowledge, skills and training clinical professionals need to care for veterans.  Along with Durbin and Duckworth, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Chris Coons (D-DE). 

Since 2001, more than 1,650 U.S. troops have suffered combat-related limb loss in Iraq and Afghanistan.  More than 320,000 wounded warriors have a traumatic brain injury, many of whom require orthotic care. The number of veterans with amputation more than tripled from 25,000 in 2000 to almost 90,000 in 2016, not only due to service-related injuries stemming from the changing nature of war—such as the increasing use of improvised explosive devices and medical advances that help save more lives—but also due to illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And despite such limb loss, these service members and veterans have shown they can thrive, thanks to skilled medical care and rehabilitation, advancements in orthotics and prosthetics, youth and non-profit groups engaging wounded warriors in sports, and countless others.

However, within the next ten years alone, the demand for orthotics and prosthetics professionals is expected to be about 60 percent higher than the available supply of certified providers. In half a dozen states, an opening for a certified and licensed prosthetist or orthotist can take 12 months or more to fill. In fact, a number of states, including those with large veteran populations, already face a shortage of critically-needed clinicians. And existing accredited orthotics and prosthetics master’s degree programs in the country graduate an average of only 250 clinicians per year. In addition, as much as 80 percent of prosthetic devices currently delivered to veterans are provided by private-sector facilities under contract with the VA, outside the walls of a Department of Veterans Affairs facility.