Durbin, Murphy, Cartwright Introduce Bills To Support Wounded Warriors

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), and U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08), today introduced two bicameral bills to support wounded warriors by improving orthotics and prosthetics care, and expanding the current orthotics and prosthetics workforce. The bills would enhance research in best practices and support colleges and universities seeking to establish degree programs to train 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.”

“I’m proud to join Senator Durbin and Congressman Cartwright again in introducing these two bills. It’s our responsibility to make sure the men and women who put their lives on the line for this country get the best care available when they get home,” said Murphy. “No veteran should have to deal with unnecessary delays in getting the prosthetics and orthotics they need, and these two bills will help to make sure that doesn’t happen.” 

“Supporting wounded servicemembers is a key part of the promise we make to those who selflessly join our military,” said Cartwright.  “This legislation will ensure our nation’s orthotics and prosthetics professionals have the resources they need to help us keep that promise.”

Today’s legislative package is divided into two bills.  The first, 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 Murphy, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Chris Coons (D-DE).

The second bill, the Wounded Warrior Research Enhancement Act, establishes the first centralized collection of outcomes-based research on orthotics and prosthetics.  Currently, many practitioners rely on personal experience and trial-and-error methods, rather than empirical data, to determine which prosthetic device will work best for a given patient.  This can result in a patient being fitted for several different devices before the ideal fit is found, a lengthy and potentially costly process.  The research collection established by the bill will give caregivers the knowledge they need to better match prosthetic and orthotic devices with individual patients, saving time and money by improving the likelihood that a veteran’s first prosthetic will also be the best. In addition, the research collection will provide information on advanced materials, technologies and devices. 

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.