Patient Groups Back Bill Supporting US Veterans with COPD

November 09, 2010


Ifdy Perez, COPD Foundation
Tel:  1-866-731-2673, ext. 398

November is National COPD Awareness Month
Veterans Day is November 11

Patient Groups Back Bill Supporting US Veterans with COPD
Legislation directs Department of Veterans Affairs to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COPD, 4th leading cause of death in US

Washington, D.C. (November 9, 2010)--The COPD Foundation, along with the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the Alpha-1 Association (A1A), the Alpha-1 Foundation (A1F) and the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and the US COPD Coalition (USCC), have come together in support of HR 5996 – a bill aimed at helping veterans with COPD. 

HR 5996 is a bipartisan bill introduced by co-founders of the COPD caucus Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), which would increase the ability of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to diagnose, treat and manage COPD. 

“Early detection and treatment is important to slow or arrest the progression of the disease,” Stearns said in a hearing on September 29th. “Because there is no cure, early treatment is vital. Because the COPD rate is three times higher in the veteran population than the civilian population, how can the VA not be providing this type of specialized care?”

COPD is the fourth most common diagnosis amongst hospitalized veterans aged 65-74.

HR 5996 will allow the VA to take a comprehensive approach to reducing the burden of COPD through innovative prevention, education and treatment strategies. It also provides for critically needed research into best practices that will help to simultaneously reduce costs and improve quality of life. 

“While there are many ways that someone can develop COPD, the most common is from smoking. However, it should also be noted that COPD has underlying genetic risk factors and healthy non-smokers can develop COPD,” Stearns said.

“Our organization and the COPD community care deeply about the need to address COPD in America’s veteran population. The VA system has been a leader in health systems research and HR 5996 will build on a record of using innovative methods to improve the health of the veterans it serves,” John W. Walsh, president and founder of the COPD Foundation said. “Congress’ actions will mark a great step towards addressing the burden that COPD places on veterans, their families and the health care delivery system.” 

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., and is predicted to become the third leading cause of death by 2020, beating both diabetes and stroke. Every year, 126,000 Americans die from COPD – about one death every four minutes.

Through the support of the US COPD Coalition, ATS, AARC, A1F, and A1A, the bill would have the VA begin to develop treatments for our veterans. 

During the September 29th hearing, Dr. Robert L. Jesse, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health in the Veterans Health Administration for the VA, said HR 5996 has “the authority to develop the treatment protocols and to improve the research programs on this disease.” 

“VA supports the bill’s focus on the special needs of COPD patients who struggle with their smoking addictions. The knowledge gained would benefit the population at large,” Jesse said. “VA believes this focus would particularly improve care and outcomes for veterans with COPD, improve rates of smoking cessation among patients with COPD, and reduce the risk and incidence of other smoking-related illnesses.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 24 million Americans have COPD, and 12 million don’t know they have it. 

Richard Wiedman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs for Vietnam Veterans of America, said it is critical for Congress to appropriate funds for the bill’s implementation.

“Congress ought to mandate the VA to develop techniques and strategies to encourage veterans who smoke to cease smoking, whether they have developed COPD or not, and to prioritize an anti-smoking campaign at the top of its preventative health programs,” he said. “If passed without specifically targeted funding, HR 5996 will be little more than another item on a laundry list of “Things To Do” at VA Medical facilities.” 

Wiedman also said the VA “specifically notes that there are pharmacological treatments and other treatment modalities available in the private sectors that are difficult, if not virtually impossible to get on the VA formulary.” 

“We suspect that much of the problem here is the ‘blame game’ that goes, ‘It’s all his own fault he is sick, so we should not do much to help him.’ That attitude has no place in veterans’ health care.”

Carl Blake, National Legislative Director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, said he wanted to clarify Section 1(a) that states, “Subject to the availability of appropriations provided for such purpose.” 

“This legislation essentially establishes an unfunded mandate that Congress is telling the Secretary he can ignore. While this may be a result of the current tight budget environment, if this legislation is needed to provide for our nation’s veterans, the Secretary should be instructed to implement the programs and they should be appropriately funded by Congress,” Blake said. “This legislation outlines excellent programs to improve the health of veterans. Without strong requirements directing the Secretary to implement these programs, they may not be implemented by VA due to its other competing requirements.” 

This bill will also have the VA develop treatment protocols and related tools for the diagnosis, treatment and management of COPD. It would have the VA establish a pilot smoking cessation program targeted towards COPDers. 

Adrian M. Atizado, Assistant National Legislative Director for Disable American Veterans (DAV), said the bill would require the VA to develop improved techniques and best practices in coordination with the Director of the CDC for assisting COPDers in smoking cessation.

About the COPD Foundation
The COPD Foundation is dedicated to developing and supporting programs which improve the quality of life through research, education, early diagnosis, and enhanced therapy for persons whose lives are impacted by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The COPD Foundation has several programs dedicated to informing, empowering, educating, and engaging individuals affected by COPD, including both diagnosed and undiagnosed individuals, their families and friends, and their medical professionals. For more information, please visit:

About COPD
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only chronic disease growing in mortality. It affects approximately 24 million Americans but only 12 million are diagnosed. COPD includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and adult onset (refractory) asthma. Symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, and chronic coughing. For more information about COPD, visit or call 1-866-316-COPD (2673).