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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will come to order.  I would like to thank the Members of the Committee for being here this afternoon.

I would like to thank Secretary Nicholson, who chaired the Task Force, for appearing before us today to provide us with the results of the Task Force Report, which was submitted to the President on April 19, 2007. 

The Task Force was created, by Executive Order, on March 6, 2007.  The mission of the Task Force was to:

  • ·identify and examine Federal services and benefits currently provided for returning servicemembers;
  • identify existing gaps in such services;
  • seek recommendations from appropriate Federal agencies on ways to fill those gaps as effectively and expeditiously as possible using existing resources; and,
  • ensure that, in providing services to those servicemembers, appropriate Federal departments and agencies are communicating and cooperating effectively and facilitate the fostering of such agency communications and cooperation through informal and formal means, as appropriate.

The Task Force report identified 15 “process” and 10 “outreach” recommendations.  Of these 25 recommendations, the Report states that “18 represent collaborative efforts among Federal entities.”  The Task Force will reconvene in approximately one month to provide updates on the progress of the Government-wide action plan.  The Committee looks forward to the Secretary’s report on these 25 recommendations.

I know that I speak for many of my colleagues here today in expressing our fear that the recommendations of this Task Force report will meet the fate of so many other recommendations from other reports from the last decade – that there will be great fanfare and very little action.

Many of these recommendations are not new.  Many of these recommendations will face the same problems of implementation as so many recommendations of the past – the inability of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to work together in an effective manner to address the problems and hurdles faced by our returning servicemembers. 

This Committee is sensitive to the difficulties involved in coordinating the activities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  These Departments do indeed have different missions and different requirements. 

But as we meet here this afternoon our servicemembers are in harms way.  Many of these men and women will be killed or wounded.  We have talked and talked about the necessity of providing a seamless transition for years.  We no longer have the luxury of time, if we ever did – we simply must act today.

It is my hope that Secretary Nicholson will provide us with concrete answers as to why this Task Force report will be different from the Report of the President’s Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for our Nation’s Veterans, released in 2003, and the Report of the Congressional Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance, released in 1999. 

We seek a detailed time frame as to implementation, the officials who will be responsible for implementation, and how the Secretary will inform this Committee as to the progress of implementation.  This Committee seeks accountability and will look to Secretary Nicholson to provide this personal accountability.

I note that the “Government Wide Action Plan” in the report lists a number of actions that were targeted to be completed after the release of the Report and before today.  As of today, Mr. Secretary, have all of these deadlines for action been met?

Finally, I am concerned that the mission of the Task Force was constrained by being forced to concentrate on solutions using existing resources and available authorities.  This reliance begs the question as to why these steps were not taken earlier, if it was indeed only a matter of existing resources and available authorities.  It also raises the larger question as to what resources and authorities the VA needs to provide the long-promised seamless transition between the VA and DOD once and for all.