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Opening Statement of Hon. Doug Lamborn, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Colorado

Thank you Mr. Chairman for recognizing me, and for holding this hearing.

I am here today to learn about the legislation before us.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and my colleagues in the subcommittee.

Our first bill, H.R. 67, the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act of 2007 has my full support. 

One of the most persistent challenges we face is communicating to veterans and their families the existence of benefits they may have earned. 

This bill funds outreach by state and local governments, which have proven capable incubators for effective public policy.  Perhaps some of their innovations could be useful at the federal level.

This legislation also sends VA a signal that Congress expects strong and effective outreach to our veterans.

Our second bill, H.R. 1435, the Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Reduction Act of 2007, could make a big difference in reducing claims backlog. 

This bill would fund a pilot program to allow properly trained county veteran service officers to develop claims.  This intergovernmental partnering could speed up the adjudication process, improve accuracy and enhance the linkages between governmental layers as they serve veterans.

I believe this is good policy.  In fact, Mr. Chairman, I would support including in this pilot state and municipal veteran service officers.

To ensure that veterans get quality results, I also suggest that service officers are certified by VA.

This approach has already been tried with considerable success.  A 2002 pilot program between the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs and the Buffalo, New York, VA regional office showed that this concept could reduce claim development time and improve accuracy; the concept is sound.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing more about H.R. 1444 and 1490.  I am concerned these bills would create unfortunate and unintentional consequences but fail to solve the fundamental problems they ostensibly address.

H.R. 1444 would provide veterans $500 per month if their compensation and pension claim was remanded by the U.S Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims or by the Board for Veterans Appeals and it has been over 180 since the date of the remand. 

There is no recoup mechanism for this money if it is determined the veteran does not qualify to receive it.

H.R. 1490 would give veterans the median amount of compensation for a claim based on a brief statement of evidence until their claim has been adjudicated.  The bill also directs the Secretary to audit a percentage of these claims for accuracy and fraud.

Mr. Chairman, I understand that the intent of these bills is to reduce the backlog.  It seems to me that both bills are what could be called “frustration legislation,” written out of sheer and justified frustration with a broken system.

I suggest it is better to concentrate instead on fixing VBA’s systemic problems within the claims processing system.  I believe it is within our power, working with VA, to do that without making payments to people who may not have earned them and potentially creating an incentive for fraud.

Mr. Chairman, part of the problem is one of access for veterans to VA expertise.  Some veterans are simply unaware that they may have grounds for a claim.

That is why I am proud to announce that today I introduced H.R. 1863.

This bill would require VA to conduct a pilot project that would provide mobile claims processing stations that would travel within a given VA regional office’s area of responsibility, providing veterans with outreach, help on their claims, and also collecting feedback for use in systemic improvements.

Today, I also introduced H.R. 1864. 

This is another piece of legislation that could have a significant impact on the claims backlog.  H.R. ____ authorizes a pilot program for an automated rules-based system that could improve decision-making on simpler claims issues, freeing up highly trained claims developers and adjudicators to work tougher issues. 

The bill authorizes $5 million per year for 4 years for the project.  It would permit VA to contract for development and implement the system in not less than two regional offices.  

Such a system would address the three major flaws in the current system: timeliness, consistency, and accuracy.  It would not call for changing the current rating system, but would make decisions with that system more efficient.

A rating produced in this manner will be less likely to be appealed and will thus contribute significantly to reducing the backlog.

And that, I think, is what all of us here are truly after.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back.