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Opening Statement of The Honorable Mike Coffman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Good morning. This hearing will come to order.

I want to welcome everyone to today’s hearing titled, “Assessing Inadequacies in VA Data Usage for and Services Provided to Visually-Impaired Veterans.”  My name is Mike Coffman, and prior to hearing testimony and asking questions to our witnesses, I ask that each Member state his or her name to assist our witnesses in identifying who is speaking.  Thank you for your cooperation.  Now let us begin.

This hearing focuses on continued problems within VA that have caused its contribution to the Vision Center of Excellence to stagnate, allowed VA systems to continue to operate in noncompliance with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and compromised other services provided to veterans with visual impairments. 

The creation of the Vision Center of Excellence, or VCE as we will refer to it today, was mandated by the National Defense and Authorization Act of FY 2008.  It stated that the Department of Defense was required to create the facility and to collaborate with the Department of Veterans Affairs in doing so.  One of the main responsibilities required in the 2008 NDAA for the operation of the VCE was to “enable the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to access the registry and add information pertaining to additional treatments or surgical procedures and eventual visual outcomes for veterans who were entered into the registry and subsequently received treatment through the Veterans Health Administration.”

The reference to the registry is that of the Defense and Veterans Eye Injury and Vision Registry, which we will also refer to as the Registry today for convenience.  The DoD has done a commendable job of populating the Registry, with over 20,000 unique patient entries.  However, the most recent number VA has provided the Committee regarding its contribution to the Vision Registry is one entry.  One, compared to 20,000.  Notably, in an October 2013 briefing, VA staff stated that the one entry was just a test case to ensure that their transfer of information would work.  So, essentially, VA had not entered any veterans information into the Registry, which precludes VA from meaningfully contributing to the very purpose the Registry was created, “to collect the diagnosis, surgical intervention, operative procedures and related treatments, and follow up of each significant eye injury incurred by members of the Armed Forces while serving on active duty.”  We will hear from a veteran today who will articulate the importance of VA fulfilling its obligation to contribute to the Registry.

Another major issue we will address today is VA’s continued failure to bring its information systems into full compliance with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Section 508 addresses access for people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities to various types of technologies.  Two separate memoranda, dated July 26, 2012, issued by then-Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Roger Baker, illustrated the ongoing problems within VA regarding Section 508 compliance.  Both memoranda reference how recent audits conducted by the VA showed that most of the content and information on VA websites was not Section 508 compliant. 

Further, in a 2012 VA Dashboard Summary analysis, every site reviewed showed a status of less than 50% compliance with Section 508.  Some notable examples include: VA Jobs (86% critical), eBenefits (95% critical), and VA Forms (100% critical).  The rating of “critical” in the analysis states that the listed percentage is the amount of that website that is “completely inoperable.”  We will hear today in VA’s testimony that they are making great strides in bringing VA systems into compliance with Section 508.  However, we will also hear from a blinded veteran who must actually navigate these pages himself.  He may be inclined to disagree.

With that, I now recognize Ranking Member Kirkpatrick for her opening statement.