Durbin, Murphy, Cartwright Introduce Legislation To Meet Demand For High-Quality Prosthetic Care For Veterans

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) will join U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright today to introduce two bills to improve orthotics and prosthetics care for the nation’s service members and veterans.  The legislation would enhance research in best practices and support colleges and universities seeking to establish degree programs to train specialists. 

“Illinois is in the lead when it comes to prosthetic and orthotic training and research,” Durbin said.  “The two bills we are introducing today will strengthen our nation’s scientific workforce, and also allow Illinois hospitals and universities an opportunity to compete for federal support to solidify their standing as a leader in this field.  The men and women who suffer serious injuries in the line of duty have already sacrificed enough.  They should expect nothing less than the highest standard of care throughout their lives.”

“In the last fifteen years, Congress has been too eager to go to war and too reticent to do what’s required for those who go fight those wars,” said Murphy. “The brave men and women who put their lives on the line for this country deserve the best care available when they get home. I’m proud to cosponsor these two bills because cutting-edge care starts with outfitting the VA with an expert workforce that’s equipped with all available data resources and research.”

“Our nation’s brave warfighters have served and continue to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq with honor and distinction.  Unfortunately, over 1,700 of these brave individuals have undergone amputations as a result of combat-related injuries over the past decade due to these wars,” said Cartwright.  “The impending end to these conflicts simply indicates the start of a grueling recovery for far too many veterans, and we have a moral obligation to provide our heroes with the best health care available.  The two bills I’ve introduced today will enhance orthotic and prosthetic research and expand training opportunities to ensure our amputee warfighters retain access to the appropriate clinicians provide more resources.”

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 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.  Chicago would be a leading contender for that Center of Excellence. 

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.

In the past decade, the skill set to provide this state-of-the-art care has become increasingly complex.  Unfortunately, there are only around 7,100 prosthetists and orthotists nationwide, with one in five either past retirement already or eligible to retire in the next five years.  Current degree programs are not widespread enough to meet this demand for new practitioners and should these degree-granting programs continue at their current rate, they will only be able to replace around two-thirds of the clinicians who retire in the next 20 years.

The Department of Veterans Affairs serves approximately 40,000 individuals with limb loss each year.  Advances in medical technology have greatly increased the survival rate for even the most grievously wounded service members, but many of those survivors still lose limbs due to their injuries.  That increased survival rate, coupled with the greater use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, have led to an amputation rate double that of previous conflicts.  Though requiring lifelong care, those medical advances also mean amputations do not preclude a long and healthy life: U.S. News and World Report reported in 2013 that there are at least 167 soldiers who have had a complete loss of an arm, leg, hand or foot who have remained on active duty.