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Opening Statement of Honorable Dina Titus, Ranking Minority Member

Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you for holding today’s hearing and to our witnesses for appearing before the Subcommittee today.  

As the new Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, the other Members of this Subcommittee and all of our stakeholders to tackle the claims backlog, ensuring that our nation’s veterans receive the benefits they have honorably earned and rightfully deserve.

Today we are here to examine the issue of 100 percent temporary disability ratings.  We know that for our most wounded warriors, a 100 percent disability rating provides compensation when a disability prevents them from seeking gainful employment.

But in January 2011, the VA Office of the Inspector General discovered that 15 percent of these rating evaluations were being incorrectly processed.  The IG projects that these errors will cost the VA $1.1 billion in overpayments during the next five years.

At the Reno VA Regional Office, which serves my Congressional District in Southern Nevada, the Inspector General found that over half of the temporary 100 percent disability evaluations were incorrectly processed.  While a number of these cases involve overpayments, some veterans are being underpaid as well, particularly as it relates to special monthly compensation.  For example, the audit of the Reno Office found one veteran with service-connected bone cancer and prostate cancer who was underpaid nearly $10,000 over a period of three years.  

The IG reported that 93 percent of the errors could have easily been avoided through three seemingly simple fixes:

1.    If follow-up exam dates were entered in the electronic record;

2.    If calendar notifications were observed and not just ignored or overlooked; and

3.    If staff secured the proper medical evidence before switching a veteran’s evaluation to a permanent rating.

I was concerned when I learned that the IG has found the similar errors in all 42 regional offices inspected since this initial audit with an average of 62 percent of these evaluations still being processed inaccurately.  

It is my understanding that following this audit, in July of 2011, the VA instituted a technical fix to their computer systems that eliminates the potential for many of the instances of human error that the IG found in their January 2011 Report.  I look forward to Deputy Under Secretary Rubens’ testimony on the results that these software changes have had on the claims management systems.

I hope today’s hearing will shed light on why there still seems to be problems in this area, two years after the IG report, and after the VA took steps to address these concerns.  Is this a problem with systems, with training, with accountability, or a combination of these factors?  

I hope we will discuss what system fixes have been made, and what management and employee accountability procedures have been implemented since the IG report to prevent these types of inaccuracies.  I hope at the end of this hearing that we will reach a consensus on how to address and fix these problems today, and, looking forward, how we ensure they do not happen in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back.