1:46 PM EDT
Sanford Bishop Jr., D-GA 2nd

Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for yielding.

Mr. Chairman, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among veterans who access the VA health care system is markedly higher than that of the general population. Furthermore, barriers within this system contribute to already late diagnoses of HIV among veterans. Early diagnosis is crucial because the sooner an HIV-infected person begins treatment, the more manageable and the more cost effective their treatment will be.

I speak today as a member of the subcommittee with concern about the impact of HIV/AIDS on veterans, not only in Georgia, but throughout the Southeast and every major city around the Nation.

The need for action on this issue, Mr. Chairman, is exemplified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent Heightened Response to HIV/AIDS in African American Communities initiative. These actions follow the September 2006 release of the CDC's revised HIV testing guidelines, which advise HIV testing become a routine part of medical care.

The VA is the largest integrated health care system in the United States and, therefore, the largest provider of HIV care in the country. However, VA's current HIV testing policy is based on an outdated testing model which is inconsistent with the CDC guidelines.

Compared to the general population, the prevalence of HIV infections is higher among those accessing the VA health care system. A recent study that was conducted by a VA researcher found that at the time of diagnosis 55 percent of HIV-positive veterans had already developed Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, which takes roughly 10 years to develop after it's initially contracted.

Even more disturbing is the fact that most of these veterans had accessed the VA health care system on an average of six times before they were ever diagnosed with this disease. This outdated VA HIV testing policy denies veterans sensible and what is now recommended as standard access to HIV screening in other health care systems.

I applaud the chairman for his leadership in making health care for veterans a priority in the VA appropriations bill. Mr. Chairman, I'm hoping that we can work together to further explore this important issue and address it in an appropriate way as we move forward on the VA Appropriations measure for fiscal 2008.

At this point, I'd like to ask the chairman of the subcommittee if he would be so kind as to yield to Mr. Jackson from Illinois to speak to the issue of HIV prevalence among veterans.