WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, spoke today during a hearing with Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) leaders about his legislation to expand veterans’ access to lifesaving transplant surgeries, which the VA may oppose.
A partial transcript of Cassidy’s remarks is below.
CASSIDY: I’m a liver doctor, and I’ve worked with a lot of people with transplants. And it just makes sense: the more transplants a transplant center does, the better your outcomes. The more likely the new organ survives, the more likely the person lives, the shorter time they spend in the hospital.
We’re introducing a bill that if a veteran lives near a private sector transplant center, that she or he could go to that nearby transplant center, as opposed to being referred to the VA 1,000 miles away. Now, distance doesn’t bother me as much, but if you look at the VA transplant centers, they don’t do as many. And in some cases, their outcomes are not as good.
So, if you’re in New Orleans and you have a chance to go to Ochsner, which may do 300 liver transplants a year and has the best outcomes in the country, as opposed to someplace else in the VA system which does 20 a year and which has only 70 percent as good outcomes as the New Orleans center, why wouldn’t you go to New Orleans if you live in New Orleans?
And commander, you said if the specialty service is not offered in the VA, that’s when choice really comes into play. I would argue when it’s offered but may not be as good, because what we’re talking about here are lives. As a hepatologist who has taken care of transplants, I know the experience of the center matters, and in this case, it matters for the person’s life.
And so I look forward to exploring that with you. We’ve heard some preliminary indications that VA might be opposed, but I don’t know why, because Secretary Shulkin at one point said the VA’s about the veteran, it is not about the VA system. And I actually think that is the best, highest calling of all, because for you, each of you made the decision that your life is about our country more so than even your life. I thank you for that, and I will do my best to continue the ethic that you inspire us all with.