WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced two bills to improve orthotics and prosthetics care for our 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.
“The men and women who put their lives on the line for this country deserve the best care available when they get home. That’s on us,” said Murphy. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they receive the most cutting edge treatment, and that no other veteran has to deal with unnecessary delays in getting the prosthetics and orthotics they need. Let’s start by passing these two bills.”
“The men and women who serve our country and suffer serious injuries because of it have already sacrificed enough. They should expect nothing less than the highest standard of care when they come home,” said Durbin. “These two bills 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 orthotics and prosthetics.”
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.
This bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bill Nelson (D-Fl.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Gary Peters (D-Minn.). The bill is supported by the American Legion, Student Veterans of America, VetsFirst, the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education, the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association, and Scheck and Siress.
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, at least 80 percent of prosthetic/orthotic care currently delivered to veterans is provided in a community-based setting, outside the walls of a Department of Veterans Affairs facility.