From his perch on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, freshman U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., helped shape the “John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Networks Act” (VA MISSION Act) which cleared the House at the end of last week.
The final bill includes two of Dunn’s proposals, taking language from his “Veterans Increased Choice for Transplanted Organs and Recovery (VICTOR) Act” and his “Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act."
Dunn’s VICTOR Act gibes. veterans who need organ transplants more choices in their medical care. The House passed a version of the legislation in November. Dunn’s proposal would give veterans needing organ transplants more access, allowing those who live 100 miles or more from VA transplant centers have their procedures done at other medical facilities though it would need to be federally certified and cover Medicare patients.
Noting the current policy, Dunn pointed to his own district, which includes parts of the Big Bend, as an area where veterans would benefit from his legislation. For veterans in Dunn’s district, the nearest VA facility that performs organ transplants is in Nashville.
“The VICTOR Act is a critical step forward in ensuring transplant care through the VA meets our veterans’ medical needs,” Dunn, who served as an Army surgeon, said after the vote in November. “Medical decisions should be made between a doctor and their patient, and that is exactly what this bill does. The VICTOR Act will remove unnecessary obstacles facing veterans in need of organ transplants, making it easier for those who have served our country to receive life-saving surgery.”
Dunn’s proposal had more than 30 co-sponsors, including Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Matt Gaetz, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross, John Rutherford, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed Dunn’s “Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act" without opposition earlier this month. The North Florida Republican introduced this bill back in September.
Dunn’s bill would direct the VA secretary to connect VA doctors and health care providers to a national network of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) which track prescribing data for patients prescribed drugs like oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone to relieve pain.
The PDMPs identify and alert of abuse patterns in patients, a key step to stopping widespread abuse of the drugs, which are dangerous in part because of their highly addictive properties.
VA doctors consult the state-based PDMPs before prescribing opioids to veterans, some of whom have suffered injuries while fighting wars overseas.
VA doctors currently don’t have the ability to consult a national network of state-based PDMPs, which means patients could potentially hop from state to state filling prescriptions without being detected.
Part of the PDMPs’ shortcomings, according to President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, is the lack of cross-state interoperability. The Commission recommended “enhancing” interstate data sharing among PDMPs to help identify at-risk patients and lessen the potential for drug abuse.
Dunn weighed in on why he championed this proposal earlier in the month.
“Veterans across our country are suffering from addiction and opioid abuse. As a doctor and a veteran, I have met heroes who need help, but aren’t finding it at the VA. We can change that,” said Dunn. “The VA is the largest health-care provider in the country, and is in a unique position to lead the initiative to prevent opioid abuse, particularly among our veterans. By increasing transparency in opioid prescribing, we can identify abuse patterns and ensure our veterans are getting the best possible care.”
Dunn’s proposal has the firm support of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee.
“As we work to tackle the opioid epidemic, we must take every step to promote safe prescribing practices that protect America’s heroes from the dangers of opioid abuse,” Roe said after the vote. “I’m proud the House Committee on Veterans Affairs advanced Dr. Dunn’s legislation to allow for the greater sharing of information between VA and state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, and I’m grateful for his continued work on this issue.”
Dunn has rounded up 37 cosponsors including Florida Republicans Rutherford and Yoho and Florida Democrat U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. The bill also has the support of Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. There was no counterpart over in the Senate which helps explain why it was rolled into the current bill.
“Our veterans are true American heroes, let’s give them a fighting chance and ensure no one slips through the cracks and becomes a victim of the opioid crisis,” Dunn said after the committee vote earlier this month.