Earlier this week, during debate on the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment that would have considerably narrowed the eligibility of diseases and medical conditions that could be studied by the Department of Defense’s health research programs. These programs, also known as the “Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs,” have provided competitive grants to researchers on prevalent disorders such as cancer, but also rarer conditions like ALS, tuberous sclerosis complex, and neurofibromatosis.
The Defense Health Research Consortium – a coalition of patient advocacy organizations, medical societies and veteran’s organizations housed at CRD – immediately mobilized its grassroots advocates and encouraged them to contact their Senators to express opposition to the McCain amendment. Organizations from the larger health and veterans communities joined in, and 64 organizations signed a letter to the Senate expressing opposition (click image ). Grassroots advocates from groups like the Parkinson’s Action Network, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Lymphoma Research Foundation flooded the Senate with telephone calls and emails.
Ultimately, Senator McCain withdrew his amendment. In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain stated:
“I am aware of the outcry that has taken place at these various organizations which are dedicated to improving the health of Americans, and so therefore of course I am not subjecting it to a vote”
McCain’s full remarks can be found here. While the McCain amendment will not likely be the last challenge to the Congressional investment in these important programs, the withdrawal of the amendment represents a significant victory. The grassroots advocacy that led to its withdrawal prove that individual Americans, working collectively in a closely coordinate strategy, can still make a difference on Capitol Hill!