AOTA Co-Hosts Congressional Briefing on Wounded Warriors Rehab
By Andrew Waite
Occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology were all recently at the same head table on Capitol Hill.
AOTA, The American Physical Therapy Association, and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association co-hosted the Congressional Briefing on the Rehabilitation of Wounded Warriors and Veterans September 18 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. The briefing gave therapy professionals the chance to tell representatives from more than 60 legislators’ offices about the value of rehabilitation services in treating veterans.
The Capitol Hill briefing came together because each association is part of the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative
, which is a comprehensive national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to give service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.
Rehabilitation services are an important component of the support veterans need, and September’s briefing was meant to relay that message to the country’s decision makers.
“This was an educational briefing. We wanted to lay the foundation for dialoguing with legislative offices about plans for veteran care,” says Tim Nanof, AOTA’s director of Federal Affairs. “Whether it’s earning additional funding for the VA for a certain program or if it’s translating what therapists are doing in the VA and in the private sector, we wanted them to know that rehab professionals have valuable services to offer.”
The briefing was held in the wing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and many representatives who serve on that committee sent staff persons. That meant the rehab world had the ears of those representing offices of Congress that are most influential when it comes to determining the amount of resources dedicated to veterans.
Tracey Ellis, OTR/L, MPH, the CEO of Ellis Therapeutic Consultants and former Walter Reed National Military Medical Center therapist and traumatic brain injury researcher, used her seat at the head table to educate the congressional office staff about occupational therapy and to demonstrate its value.
“You can encourage the use of occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy,” Ellis told the legislative staffers in the room. “What I am asking is that you consider our role. By utilizing our services, we can improve the outcome for wounded warriors and eliminate some of the tragic outcomes that we hear about and even save money in the process. We help people get back to independent functioning and achieve their goals.”
Other speakers were Paul R. Rao, PhD, CCC-SLP, chief operating officer for inpatient services at the National Rehabilitation Hospital; Aaron Eaton, associate professor at Montgomery College Department of Physical Therapy; and Heather Malecki, DPT, Rehabilitation and Polytrauma Coordinator at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center.
September’s briefing was the latest in AOTA’s continued presence on Capitol Hill. In March, AOTA hosted its first-ever mental health briefing and educated congressional staff members on the Occupational Therapy Mental Health Act (HR 3762), which would add occupational therapists to the current list of “behavioral and mental health professionals” in the National Health Services Corps (NHSC), making them eligible to participate in the NHSC Scholarship and Loan Repayment Programs.
In addition, AOTA’s annual Capitol Hill Day is Sept. 24.
To learn more about AOTA’s advocacy efforts and how you can get involved, visit the advocacy highlights section of AOTA’s Web site and check out AOTA’s Legislative Action Center.
Andrew Waite is the associate editor of OT Practice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.