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June 18, 2024

King, Rounds Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect Older Veterans from Avoidable, Costly Falls

Legislation is part of King’s overall ‘Stand Strong’ strategy to support Maine’s older population and save taxpayer dollars


WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) are introducing bipartisan legislation to help older veterans “Stand Strong” and avoid injuries from costly, dangerous falls. The SAFE STEPS for Veterans Act would establish an Office of Falls Prevention within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and create a falls prevention coordinator role there. The legislation would also create a pilot program for incorporating falls prevention programs into VA home modification programs, and establish an assessment for veterans to identify those most at risk of falling. Since veterans, on average, have more chronic conditions than their non-veteran counterparts, additional programs would be incredibly important to prevent unnecessary injuries or hospitalizations and the massive expenses associated with falls.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that $50 billion a year is spent on direct medical costs for falls among older adults. Falls are caused by a variety of risk factors, such as lower body weakness, balance issues, vitamin D deficiency, hearing issues, vision issues, use of certain medications, and/or home hazards. Twenty percent of these falls result in serious injuries resulting in more than 800,000 hospitalizations each year.

“We all know the saying that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ so preventative care is a win-win for patients, family support systems, VA beneficiaries and taxpayers,” said Senator King. “The bipartisan SAFE STEPS for Veterans Act will ensure older veterans across the United States have access to a dedicated office and resources solely focused on their health and safety in the falls prevention space. Thanks to my colleague, Senator Rounds, for continuing to prioritize our veterans who gave so much to our country.”

“America’s veterans deserve access to the preventative care solutions that evidence-based slip and fall prevention programs offer,” said Senator Rounds. “It’s our responsibility to make certain veterans have access to these programs so they can live safely and comfortably after giving their time and talents to protect our great nation. I’m proud to join Senator King on the SAFE STEPS for Veterans Act to build and expand fall prevention programs at the VA.”

Falls prevention is an interdisciplinary approach that requires screening and coordination among health care providers, referral to community-based falls prevention programs, and addressing home-based risks. However, neither the VA nor VHA currently have a single authority that leads falls prevention efforts for the Department. Additionally, while VA provides funding for home modification programs for certain veterans’ populations, these programs do not incorporate evidence-based falls prevention programs into their work. The VHA also does not include a requirement that veterans at risk be screened, leaving too many veterans susceptible to otherwise preventable falls.

On a percentage basis, Maine leads the nation with the largest 65 and older population. In 2021, there were 325 deaths in Maine attributed to older adult falls and Maine ranked 8th highest in the nation per capita on the rate of deaths due to falls.

More specifically, the SAFE STEPS for Veterans Act would:

  • Establish an Office of Falls Prevention and creates a falls prevention coordinator within VHA;
    • Relatedly, it would make the falls prevention coordinator the point person on federal panels focused on falls prevention, including the HHS Administration on Community Living’s Interagency Coordinating Committee on Aging.
    • Would require the falls prevention coordinator to develop a national education campaign to promote injury prevention programs.
  • Require the falls prevention coordinator to work with NIH to develop veterans-specific research for evidence-based falls prevention programs;
  • Require a report on Falls Prevention Initiatives in the Department;
  • Make improvements to Safe Patient Handling Transfer Techniques, which ensure that injured or paralyzed veterans are safely transferred between seated positions;
  • Create a pilot program for current home modification grant programs to incorporate evidence-based falls prevention programs as a component of receipt of grant funding; and
  • Establish a Falls Assessment and Fall Prevention Service requirement for veterans to screen for those at risk of falling and to better ensure care plans are developed.

“Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older Americans. Veterans face unique challenges that increase their risk of falling due to physical disabilities, chronic health conditions, medications, limb loss and traumatic brain injury. However, falling is not an inevitable result of aging. Through practical lifestyle adjustments, evidence-based falls prevention programs, and clinical-community partnerships, the number of falls among veterans can be substantially reduced,” said National DAV Legislative Director, Joy Ilem. “DAV thanks Senator King and Rounds for championing “SAFE STEPS for Veterans Act of 2024,” which establishes the Office of Falls Prevention at the Veterans Health Administration and supports research for evidence-based fall prevention programs that will benefit and protect our veterans.  

“The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is grateful to Sens. King and Rounds for their leadership on the bipartisan SAFE STEPS for Veterans Act of 2024. It is critical we expand efforts to promote mobility and prevent falls and related injuries for our veterans,” said APTA President Roger Herr, PT, MPA. “Establishment of an Office of Falls Prevention within the Department of Veterans Affairs will improve research, education, and health care services aimed at falls prevention provided to veterans, with the goal of averting costly health care utilization while decreasing the incidence of falls. The legislation also ensures that our veterans will have access to the physical therapist-provided falls prevention services critical to reducing emergency room visits, hospital stays, and deaths resulting from falls.

As an extension of his longtime focus on prevention efforts, Senator King has been leading the charge in the “Stand Strong” space. Recently, he introduced a legislative package to encourage proactive home modifications and to increase access to preventative screenings for older Americans to keep them thriving while avoiding costly injuries. The package included the reintroduction of the Preventative Home Visits Act and the WELL Seniors Act to expand Medicare benefits to cover home modifications, ensure the accessibility of telehealth services and include comprehensive screenings during Medicare Annual Wellness Visits.


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