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Opening Statement of Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Indiana

Good afternoon. 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here today and for chairing this task force.  The President has made clear his intent that we once and for all establish a truly seamless transition for servicemembers between the military and the VA, as well as other agencies providing services to veterans.  You and your colleagues on the task force have produced a thorough review of the factors affecting seamless transition, and are to be commended.

However, over the past 15 years, I have seen one commission and task force report after another.  From my own personal experience with seamless transition, I know there are few new discoveries.  What we have regrettably seen, and what compelled the President to directly intervene, is a general lack of implementation.  To be fair, VA has made much progress; it has in fact led the federal effort.  But VA cannot do it alone.

Mr. Secretary, with the task force’s work behind us, this report before us, and the President’s intent made clear, we now must have implementation.  In a few short weeks, the President is due to receive a progress report on the implementation of the recommendations from the report.  We in turn will look for department and agency heads, in particular you and Defense Secretary Gates, to work together to move your respective departments forward. 

When that happens, we can talk about real progress.

This report is, nonetheless, encouraging.  Among the task force’s 25 recommendations, a handful alone would dramatically improve transition and must become a high priority within the administration.  These include:

  • Development of a system of co-management and case management for returning servicemembers to facilitate transition between the Department of Defense and VA.
  • Screening all Global War on Terror veterans seen in VA health care facilities for mild to moderate traumatic brain injury.
  • Expanding VA access to DoD records to coordinate an improved transfer of a servicemember’s medical care through patient “hand-off.”
  • Development of a joint DoD / VA process for disability benefit determinations by establishing a cooperative Medical and Physical Evaluation Board process within the military service branches and VA care system.
  • Among my goals here on the committee, is to ensure that veterans have every opportunity to live full and healthy lives – that they can take advantage of the economic opportunities their service helped preserve.  Among key recommendations from the task force report that would help veterans transition into civilian life:
  • Increasing attendance at the Transition Assistance and Disabled Transition Assistance Programs for active duty, guard and reserve.
  • Requiring the Department of Education, in cooperation with the Department of Labor, to participate in DoD job fairs to provide returning servicemembers and their families with an awareness of the post-secondary education benefits.
  • Requiring the Department of Labor, through the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, to participate in the Workforce Investment System in every state and territory; and partnering with private and public sector job fairs to expand the number of employers involved in active veteran recruitment.

The accomplishment of these recommendations, as well as others, is critically important.  Since 2003, this committee held more than 10 hearings and conducted at least 15 site visits focusing on seamless transition.  Our experiences corroborate the value offered by these recommendations.

Yet, it already appears there is some reason for concern over implementation of the task force’s 25 recommendations.  The implementation target dates for 12 actions supporting the accomplishment of nearly half of those recommendations have already passed.  At this point, we do not know if these actions have been completed.

Of additional concern is the apparent lack of a single point of accountability short of the President to ensure interdepartmental action.  It is unclear to me who in the Administration is responsible for monitoring and enforcing timelines and implementation.  Our odyssey with this issue, as well as our experience with moving the department to a centralized system of information technology management unequivocally attests to the supreme importance of accountability.

I look forward to learning about the departments’ implementation of the task force’s recommendations, and to learning what is being done to fulfill the President’s intent in a timely fashion.

Again, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.