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Opening Statement of Hon. Doug Lamborn, Ranking Republican Member, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Good Afternoon Mr. Chairman.  I am very happy to be back as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.  I greatly enjoyed the favorable rapport we developed last Congress, and the bipartisan manner in which you and I and our staffs worked together.  I look forward to another productive session.

I would like to welcome our colleagues from the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation and all of our witnesses here today, including my counterpart on the Subcommittee on oversight and investigations, the Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe of Tennessee.

Mr. Chairman, we made a lot of progress in the last Congress towards modernizing and improving the VA claims processing system, and it is my hope that the reforms we put in place in Public Law 110-389 will help prevent future document management problems like the ones we are examining today. 

I would also like to thank you for endorsing my idea to require VA to move toward a paperless, rules-based adjudication system.  While the paperless system is not a panacea, you and I both know that if VA’s files were all electronic, the shredding incident could have been avoided.  I thank VA for acknowledging that in their testimony.

When a veteran submits a claim for disability compensation, they must be able to have trust that VA will adjudicate their claims in a timely and accurate fashion. Unfortunately the shredding incident has violated this trust for many veterans and it is now VA’s job to regain it. 

What troubles me the most about the shredding incident, is that the number of documents VA found during its spot check was merely a one-day snapshot of what appears to be an ongoing problem.  VA will probably never know how long this mishandling has been going on or how widespread the practice was. 

However, I do applaud VA for their swift action in removing the employees that were responsible for the documents that were found.  I find it very unfortunate that the actions of a few have tarnished the work of so many dedicated VA employees.

Veterans need to be able to trust the integrity of the VA system, and I believe they are on the path to regaining this trust.  I do believe, however, that VA’s current plan to have every document signed off by two people before it can be shredded is highly inefficient. I encourage VA to find a more reasonable approach to protecting claimant’s files without adversely affecting production, and I hope today’s discussion will produce  some possible alternative solutions.

Another focus of this hearing is the misdating of claims at the New York Regional Office and other offices around the country.   As disturbing as this is, I am relieved to know that the actions of a few individuals have not adversely affected any veterans or survivors. 

However, these actions underscore the need to review and possibly change VA’s work management program. Such review was mandated by P.L. 110-389, and I look forward to hearing more about this review once it is completed.

I am reassured by the findings of the Inspector General that the problem is not believed to be systemic, and that the employees involved in the backdating have been removed.  That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman.  I thank the witnesses for their attendance, and I look forward to hearing their testimony. I yield back.