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Opening Statement of Hon. Jerry McNerney, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to thank you for holding today’s hearing.

As we have discussed over the course of many hearings in the 110th and 111th Congresses, the VA’s claims processing system has many shortcomings which have left many disabled veterans without proper and timely compensation and other benefits to which they are rightfully entitled.  Today, 66% of VA’s 886,000 pending claims languish in backlog status (meaning longer than 125 days).

At the heart of this system is the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (or VASRD).  In its study, the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission (VDBC) concluded that the VA Rating Schedule has not been comprehensively updated since 1945.  

Although sections of it have been modified, no overall review has been satisfactorily conducted, leaving some parts of the schedule out of date-- relying on arcane medical and psychological practices-- and out of sync with modern disability concepts.  

The notion of a Rating Schedule was first crafted in 1917, so that returning World War I veterans could be cared for when they could no longer function in their pre-war occupations.  At the time, the American economy was primarily agricultural based and labor intensive.  

Today’s economy is different and the effects of disability may be greater than just the loss of earning capacity.  Many disability specialists believe that loss of quality of life, functionality, and social adaptation may also be important factors.  

Our nation’s disabled veterans deserve to have a system that is based on the most available and relevant medical knowledge.  They do not deserve a system that in many instances is based on archaic criteria for medical and psychiatric evaluation instruments.

I know that Congress, in the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, P.L. 110-389, directed VA to update the VASRD and to delve into revising it based on modern medical concepts.  I know that VA, in following this directive, has undertaken a comprehensive review of the VASRD, and I look forward to receiving a thorough update on its progress.  

Congress also created the Disability Advisory Committee in P.L. 110-389.  I welcome General Scott here today who is the Chair of that Committee and also welcome his insight.  I look forward to the testimony today from all of the witnesses on the complex issues surrounding modernizing the VA Rating Schedule.

I know that there is a lot to be done to improve the VA claims processing system, but with the rating schedule at the core of the process, it seems that the centerpiece is in need of a comprehensive update.  There are over 2.2 million veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with 624,000 who have already filed disability claims.  There are also so many veterans whose claims were not properly decided in the past because of the analogous-based subjectivity that is inherent in the current VASRD.

Since the DoD also relies on this system, and as we transition to the one exam platform under the Integrated Disability Examination System (IDES), bringing the VASRD into the 21st Century is so critical.  We must finish updating it without delay.

I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, and the Members of this Subcommittee in providing stringent oversight of the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities.  VA needs to adopt the right tools to do the right thing, so that our nation’s disabled veterans get the right assistance they have earned and deserve.

Thank you, and I yield back.