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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I want to tell you about a wounded warrior.

He was fitted with a prosthetic leg that fit reasonably well and he was able to carry on with his life. But from time to time his leg would give out.

He would fall, but he carried on.

Then he and his wife were blessed with their first child. He was immensely happy to be a father. But he was terrified to hold his baby.

He was afraid that his leg would give out and he would fall and hurt his baby.

Can you imagine going to war to make the world safe for your children and then being afraid to hold your own child?

One day this young father mentioned his fear to a prosthetics practitioner, who began researching other prosthetic legs and was able to find a leg that fit him better and was more stable.

Finally, that new father was able to hold his baby without fear.

Most Americans will never need for a prosthetic limb. But many do. They include people who suffer catastrophic injuries in battle and accidents and others who lose limbs to illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.

For these people, proper-fitting, advanced prosthetics and orthotics fitted by highly trained, experienced clinicians can mean the difference between constant pain and discomfort--and a certain amount of anxiety, or living a happier, healthier and more productive life.

Let me tell you about another veteran who lives in Illinois.

He lost a leg in Vietnam.

He was fitted with a prosthetic leg that included a hydraulic knee unit. That was the state of the art decades ago.

Several times a year he would fall. Many of the falls resulted in broken bones and other injuries.

This veteran was also overweight, with high blood pressure.

About 6 years ago, he was fitted with his first computer-controlled knee.

He had more stability and more range of motion. He moved with more confidence.

With his new, advanced knee, he was able to exercise. He lost weight.

His health improved and he was able to stop taking multiple medications. He is living a happier, healthier life.

Finding the right prosthetic is more than luck or guess work. It requires a great deal of education, training and experience. There are many talented prosthetic clinicians working today in Veterans Administration Hospitals and other hospitals and rehabilitation clinics.

But we have a problem. Just as the need for these health professionals is increasing, many are retiring.

Wounded warriors deserve the best medical care our grateful Nation has to offer.

Today, with Senators BLUMENTHAL and HARKIN, I am introducing two bills to help ensure that service members and veterans who need prosthetics receive the care and equipment they deserve.

The first bill, the Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act, will establish a competitive grant program at the Department of Veterans Affairs to train more health professionals in the fields of orthotics and prosthetics.

These grants can be used to create new degree programs or expand existing programs in these fields.

Our bill will also require the VA to establish a Center of Excellence in Prosthetic and Orthotic Education to research and share information about the knowledge, skills, and training clinical professionals in the field need the most.

The work at the Center would add to higher education's clinical expertise to train the students going into prosthetics and orthotics.

The second bill we are introducing today, the Wounded Warrior Research Enhancement Act, directs the Secretary of Defense to establish an ongoing program of research and best practices in orthotics and prosthetics care.

We ask OD to then make sure clinical professionals serving service members and veterans are kept up to date on innovations in technology and care.

In the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, tens of thousands of our service members have been wounded by roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire.

As our involvement in these wars winds down, many returning veterans are living with complex wounds that require sophisticated prosthetics and orthotics.

We can build on the breakthrough advances made by researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and by private providers such as Scheck & Siress, founded in Oak Park, IL.

Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, is home to the largest and oldest prosthetics and orthotics program in the Western Hemisphere.

It offers first-rate master's level education and training and graduates 50 clinicians every year.

Northwestern can be a model for other universities around the country to meet the needs of veteran amputees.

New technologies are improving the quality of life for amputees. We need to make sure that clinicians in the field have the skills and training to help veterans take advantage of these advances.

Recently the standard for entry-level qualifications for clinicians in prosthetics was changed to require a master's degree.

That makes sense. There is a lot to know. But right now there are not enough master's degree programs in our universities to meet the current demands for prosthetics and orthotics technicians.

Many experienced clinicians are nearing retirement age.

Veterans are not the only people who benefit when we train more clinicians in the fields of prosthetics and orthotics.

As America's population ages and rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease increase, more Americans find themselves in need of prosthetics and orthotics. They, too, will benefit from this investment in research and training.

When we ask our service members to risk their lives for us, they don't say, ``Ask me later.'' They go.

If they come home needing a new limb, we shouldn't tell them, ``Ask me later.''

We know that the VA is facing a critical and impending shortage of clinicians who are trained in prosthetics and orthotics.

By working together now, we can prevent that shortage and help America's wounded warriors live the fullest lives possible. I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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