Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Restoring the Purpose of the CDMRP in the NDAA

In this promising time, there are no resources too great to contribute to groundbreaking medical research. Key discoveries, new technologies and techniques, and tremendous leaps in our knowledge and understanding about disease and human health, are being made every day.

Biomedical research conducted by the Defense Department has been a critical tool in combatting rare diseases here in the United States and across the world. Since 1992, the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) has invested billions of dollars in lifesaving research to support our service members and their families, veterans, and all Americans. I am proud to have been involved with starting this program, and I have fought year in and year out to support it. As the Senate continues to debate this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I am concerned that the Senate’s bill includes two harmful provisions that would undermine medical research in the CDMRP and erode these paths to vital progress, taking hope away from millions of Americans.

The CDMRP has long led to advancements in the field of medicine. From the development of early-detection techniques for diagnosing cancer and improving ways to restore mobility to patients suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), to advancing treatments for traumatic brain injury and progressing the approval of drugs to treat prostate and breast cancer. For more than two decades, this valuable medical research program has invested over $11 billion in the health of our service members and their families, and developed techniques to combat various cancers and the many rare and debilitating diseases faced by so many Americans.

I was proud to be there from the start of the CDMRP. Those efforts evolved from linking a bill I co-authored in 1992 to create a national network of cancer registries to assist researchers in understanding breast cancer, with an effort led by former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, myself, and several others, to redirect military funds to breast cancer research. With the help of the late Pat Barr of the Breast Cancer Network of Vermont, and the many others who were the driving force behind national breast cancer networks, the CDMRP received its first appropriations of $210 million for breast cancer research in the 1993 defense budget. Since then, the program has invested $3 billion in breast cancer research, leading to exponential nationwide reductions in the incidence of the disease. It was due to these investments that Pat Barr herself was able to enjoy an active and fulfilling life for decades after her own diagnosis, and was able to spend so many years fiercely fighting for the research that has touched, improved or saved millions of lives.

The structure of the CDMRP has always advanced biomedical research for service members and their families, as well as the public at large. It is shortsighted and frustrating that two needless provisions have been dropped into this year’s NDAA, which would bar the Department of Defense from researching the medical needs of military families and veterans, and require grant applications to comply with weapon system acquisition rules instead of the carefully peer-reviewed applications process from which all good science grows.

To redefine the definition of who can benefit from lifesaving treatment and research to cancer and other diseases is misguided and counterproductive. If we are to advance medicine in one population, these tools should be made available to everyone. And if we change the scope of these long fought efforts, we deny researchers the knowledge they need to carry out science that saves lives. It hinders medical progress for our children and grandchildren.

Whereas proponents of these provisions claim they will bring cost savings in the long term, we all know this is simply not true. Disease does not discriminate between service member, family member, veteran, or civilian. When it comes to medical research, we shouldn’t either. That is why I am proud to support the bipartisan Durbin Amendment to strike these unnecessary and hindering provisions from the bill, which would needlessly block access to innovative discoveries in these burgeoning fields of medicine.

Biomedical research is a proven tool that brings us closer every day to finding cures and expanding treatments for debilitating conditions across the world. We cannot allow this year’s defense authorization bill to deny our veterans, the families of our service members, and other Americans victimized by ravaging disease the promise of such groundbreaking, medical knowledge. I urge all Senators to join me in supporting Senator Durbin’s amendment and in defeating any provisions in the bill that threaten the continued success of the CDMRP. We must not lose sight of the progress we have made in the fight against breast cancer and other debilitating conditions. This valuable medical research program has paved the way for so many, and we must keep it strong for generations to come.

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