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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good morning everyone. Welcome to this morning’s hearing. We are here today to review the Veterans Service Organizations’ roles in the disability claims process.

I would like to begin today on a positive note in discussing some of the tremendous parts VSO’s play on behalf of our nation’s veterans. VSO’s fulfill an invaluable service to our veterans by aiding them in a complex and confusing system to receive their earned benefits.

As I have mentioned numerous times in the past, our veterans put their lives on the line to defend our liberties and freedoms. Just as our servicemen and women fulfilled their duty to serve us and our country, we have an equal duty to ensure they receive what they have earned.

VSO’s help fulfill this commitment every day by helping veterans navigate the disability claims process; very often enabling veterans to obtain earned benefits.

They do this service free of charge.

In addition, being represented throughout the disability claims process is effective - study after study shows that veterans with representation have a greater chance at recovering their earned benefits than if they are not represented by a VSO, agent, or attorney.

I would also like to recognize a positive change in recent years which has involved a move toward increased cooperation and partnership between VA and the VSO’s. Placing the veteran and his or her needs at the center of our objectives facilitates the spirit of cooperation that we are here today to examine and improve. I hope to see continued progress in this direction going forward. 

However, part of the oversight function of this Committee is to ensure that everything is being done to assist our veterans to the extent that our resources can realistically permit.

To this end, and in the spirit of the cooperative mentality I just mentioned, it is my hope that we can explore what can be done to improve VSO representation throughout all stages of the disability claims process, as well as surveying some of VBA’s weaknesses in this regard.

For example, there are enormous challenges with the evolving structure of the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Most of these changes have originated in the process of bringing VBA into the 21st century. These adjustments present increasing challenges for VSO’s and VBA. We have a duty to explore the limitation of VSO resources when presented with an increased workload resulting from these transitions, as well as the result of sacrificing quality in working a claim due to the sheer volume and increased complexity of claims received.      

I also intend to investigate some of the weaknesses in the claim process itself with respect to the Veterans Benefits Administration. The track record over several decades of VBA in implementing sweeping improvements to its claims system has been substandard.

Now, with two wars winding down and an increasingly aging veteran population, it is imperative that the much touted technological and training improvements are set up correctly and used efficiently.

I have vowed that this Committee will continue vigorous oversight to see these goals accomplished, and I reaffirm this promise today.   To this end, I would like to thank all of our witnesses for their attendance this morning, as well as for their ongoing service to our nation’s veterans. 

I now turn to our ranking member for his opening statement. Ranking member Filner you are now recognized.