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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. I thank you for holding this hearing on the Board of Veterans Appeals and its role in the efficient processing of disability compensation claims.

I welcome our witnesses, especially Chairman Terry, and thank you all for your contributions to the veterans’ affairs system.

As everyone is aware the VA’s compensation and pension backlog has reached an epic and disgraceful level.  While I understand that there are numerous challenges facing the Board and the appeals management center, both play a significant role in veterans waiting many months if not years for an accurate rating.

I agree with Mr. Smithson of the American Legion that we can’t just look at the Board in a vacuum.  Poor quality work at the regional office level results in much larger problems later in the appeals process.

We must ensure that rating boards strive to achieve thoroughness and accuracy along with efficiency in their work. Doing so is a key step toward eventual elimination of the backlog.

I do want to commend Chairman Terry for the excellent work the Board is doing.  They are deciding a record number of appeals this fiscal year.  While your output has increased the number of claims waiting to be reviewed is still too high. 

While I agree that Congress needs to adequately staff the Board and the appeals management center, I don’t believe that hiring more people is the only solution.  I also acknowledge that there is no silver bullet that will make a significant and immediate impact on the backlog. However, I do believe that the system needs to be fundamentally changed.  That is why I am anxiously awaiting the findings of the disability commission that reports next month.

While fundamental change is needed, I believe that we can take immediate, vital action by passing H.R. 3047, the Veterans Claims Processing Innovation Act of 2007.

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 claims; and I commend it to the attention of my colleagues.

Several of the provisions of H.R. 3047 are recommendations from our witnesses today and I thank them for their support.

I thank you Mr. Chairman for promising to hold a legislative hearing on H.R. 3047 next month and I hope that you will soon join 24 of our colleagues in co-sponsoring this bipartisan bill.

I want to thank the witnesses for their testimony and I yield back.