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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 yielding and I thank you and your staff for holding this hearing today.  I requested this hearing earlier in the session and I commend your bipartisanship in holding it today.

This afternoon, we are considering several pieces of legislation, all of which are of interest and potential value.  While I am currently not opposed to any of the proposed legislation I am concerned about the mandatory offsets that would be necessary to pass many of these bills under PAYGO rules. 

That being said, I look forward to hearing more about these bills from our colleagues and the other witnesses who are with us today.

Mr. Chairman I would like to focus the rest of my time on discussing the bill I introduced H.R. 3047, the Veterans Claims Processing Innovation Act of 2007.  This bill has the bipartisan support of 32 co-sponsors and is supported by many of our witnesses here today. 

H.R. 3047 will bring VA’s compensation and pension system into the 21st century.  By increasing accountability and leveraging technology at the Veterans Benefits Administration, this bill would improve the accuracy and speed of benefits claim processing.

Section two of the bill will require VA to create a new system for claims processors to acquire credit for their work.  One way to reduce the disability compensation backlog is to ensure that VA adjudicators rate the claim correctly the first time.

While I believe that the system described in section two will help achieve this goal, I am open other suggestions that will ensure that VA adjudicators focus on accuracy as well as speed.  As I have said before, most veterans would rather wait a few more days for their claim to be adjudicated correctly the first time then have it be adjudicated quickly and have it be wrong.

Section three of my bill would require VA to establish a pilot program to create a “Regional Office of the Future” where all claims would be processed electronically.  Mr. Chairman we have heard from numerous witnesses at several hearings during this session that processing claims electronically is the way of the future and would prevent future VBA backlogs.

After several questions and concerns were raised about this section, I was happy to work with Veteran Service Organizations and the Majority staff to create the Amendment in the Nature of a substitute for H.R. 3047 that I would offer when this bill is marked up.  I want to make it clear that this provision would only establish a pilot program for electronic claims processing to aide VBA employees with their adjudication and would not replace them.

Section four of the bill would allow substitution of family members for a deceased veteran for the purposes of acquiring accrued benefits for which they are due.  I am happy to see that a similar provision is included in your bill Mr. Chairman and I look forward to working with you on this.

The final section of my bill would require VA to use a reputable private entity to evaluate its quality assurance and training programs.  While I understand and support VA’s current attempt to centralize and improve training, I would like an independent organization to verify they are on the right path.

Mr. Chairman I was very disappointed in the testimony from VA on H.R. 3047. I understand that this bill is not perfect but rather than offering a simple out of hand dismissal of the bill I would have appreciated constructive input from them on how to perfect this legislation to improve the system.

 My staff has asked VA numerous times for ways that we can help them improve this outdated system with little response.  That is why I am happy to read about the three initiatives in their testimony which seem to be moving in this direction.

I am committed to continuing to work with you Mr. Chairman, VA, and other stakeholders to perfect legislation that will revolutionize the disability compensation system and bring it in line with modern technology.

I would like to thank veteran service organizations for their support of this legislation, and I suggest to my colleagues that they also read the testimonies from AMVETS and Mr. Ron Abrams of NVLSP who both support H.R. 3047 but were unable to be with us today but have submitted for the record.

Mr. Chairman I extend my thanks to you and your staff for holding this hearing and I look forward to hearing the testimony of our colleagues and the other witnesses today. I yield back.