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Opening Statement of Honorable Dan Benishek M.D., Chairman, Subcommittee on Health

Good morning. The Subcommittee will come to order.  

Thank you all for joining us today as we meet to discuss six legislative proposals aimed at strengthening the health care and services we provide to our honored veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The six bills on our agenda this morning are:

- draft legislation, the Veterans Integrated Mental Health Care Act of 2013;

- draft legislation, the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act of 2013;

-  H.R. 241, the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act;

- H.R. 288, the CHAMPVA Children’s Protection Act of 2013;

- H.R. 984, to direct the Secretary of Defense to establish a task force on urotrauma; and,

-  H.R. 1284, to provide for coverage under VA’s beneficiary travel program for certain disabled veterans for travel for certain special disabilities rehabilitation.

These bills seek to address a number of important issues facing our veterans.  

 I expect today’s hearing to encompass a highly detailed and thorough discussion of the potential merits, challenges, and implications of each proposal before us.

I look forward to working with the Ranking Member, the bill sponsors, and our Subcommittee colleagues to fully evaluate these proposals and ensure that we advance meaningful and appropriate legislation to fulfill the promise we made to our veterans.

My bill - the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act – is intended to address the pervasive lack of action taken by VA based on their own agreed upon timelines for remediation of issues and recommendations included in VA Inspector General (IG) reports.

Currently, the IG tracks open recommendations on their website and in their Semiannual Report to Congress, the latest of which showed that there were 177 total open reports and 1,140 total open recommendations. Of those, 33 reports and 93 recommendations had remained open for more than one year.

My bill would require the IG to make a determination whether VA is making “significant progress” on implementing VA’s own agreed upon action plan and timeline to implement the recommendations made by the IG in a report concerning public health or patient safety.

Under the bill, if the IG determines that “significant progress” has not been made, the IG would be required to notify the Committees and the Secretary of the Department’s failure to respond appropriately.  Following notification, the Secretary, would be given fifteen days to submit the names of each VA manager responsible for taking action to the IG.

In turn, the Secretary would be required to promptly notify each responsible manager of the issue requiring action, direct that manager to resolve the issue, and provide him or her with appropriate counseling and a mitigation plan.

The Secretary would also be required to include in the responsible manager’s performance review an evaluation of actions in response to a relevant IG report and prohibit the individual from receiving a bonus or other performance award for failure to take action.

The goal of this legislation is simple – to create a culture within VA where problems that go unresolved are unacceptable.

Far too often, I have seen serious issues that the IG has identified go unaddressed by the Department.  

Such inaction is intolerable where the care and services provided to our veterans is concerned and it is well past time for those at VA who are responsible for implementing needed changes to be held accountable for their work.

I am hopeful that the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act is the first step in ensuring that they are.

I am happy to answer any questions my colleagues may have on this bill and to listen to the views of all of our witnesses.

To that end, I would like to thank all the sponsors for taking the time to speak with us about their proposals today.  I am grateful to each for their leadership and advocacy efforts on behalf of our veterans and their families.

I would also like to thank our veteran service organization partners and other stakeholders – both those who will testify here this morning and those who submitted statements for the record – for their valuable input.

I am also grateful to VA for being here to provide the Department’s views on these important proposals.  

With that, I now yield to Ranking Member Brownley for any opening statement she may have.

Thank you.