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Opening Statement of Honorable Dina Titus

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you for your continued leadership and efforts to address the issues facing our nation’s veterans.

Today, we are examining 10 bills.  I support several of these provisions brought forth by my colleagues, and am also proud to have introduced H.R. 2086, the Pay As You Rate Act, which is supported by a number of major VSO’s. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for including it on today’s agenda. I hope we can work together to quickly move this legislation to the House floor.  

Our first bill, H.R. 1288, World War II Merchant Mariner Service Act, sponsored by Mr. Butterfield, pertains to World War II Merchant Mariners, a group who served a critical role keeping the war effort moving forward as an auxiliary to the Navy. This legislation would expand the acceptable forms of documentation used to determine eligibility for benefits as a Merchant Marine, and would greatly assist in allowing these men and women to prove their service.

I also wanted to mention some of the of our bills before us today that are part of a slate of 10 pieces of legislation introduced by  Members of the Democratic Caucus to assist VA in tackling the claims backlog.

On today’s agenda is H.R. 1623, the VA Claims Efficiency through Information Act of 2013, brought forward by Ms. Negrete McLeod (McCloud)  of the DAMA Subcommittee.  H.R. 1623 requires VA to track the time spent evaluating each type of medical condition in a veteran’s disability claim and the performance of each regional office in handling disability claims.  Understanding which medical conditions consume the most time to process will help Congress understand the agency’s backlog and  to shape  policies that can expedite the progression of the claim.  H.R. 1623 would ensure that VBA builds in detailed measures which will ultimately lead to gains in efficiency by better understanding the backlog and ways to address it.

Next, H.R. 1809, the Faster Filing Act, was proposed by Rep. O’Rourke also of the DAMA Subcommittee.   This bill would help encourage and educate veterans about the various methods that may increase the timeliness of their claims, such as utilizing the Fully Developed Claims program.  The Fully Developed Claims program will not only help to lower the backlog significantly, but Veterans will receive their claims in the appropriate time period with an extra year of benefits as an incentive. This legislation will encourage veterans to utilize the faster approach.

And finally, my bill, H.R. 2086, the Pay As You Rate Act, would require VA to pay for medical conditions as they are adjudicated in an electronic system.  Currently, veterans typically receive payment when all medical conditions within a claim are fully adjudicated. This legislation will require VA to pay veterans as individual medical conditions are adjudicated, which will pay veterans at a faster rate. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan average 8.5 contentions in their claims. While some parts of these claims are complex and time consuming, some components are simpler. The VA should compensate veterans for the simpler components as early as possible while continuing to work on the more complex aspects of a claim.

I believe this is a common sense approach, and I hope we can move this bill to the Floor as quickly as possible.

Collectively, the legislation before us today should assist VA in their continued effort to transform their process from mountains of paper one to an efficient, and effective electronic system. In just the past few months, the VA has made great strides in serving our nations heroes. They have rolled out a transformation plan to all 56 RO’s and nearly eliminated all claims over two years old. More needs to be done, and it needs to be done quickly to ensure that veterans receive the benefits they have earned in a timely fashion.

I thank all of the Members for their thoughtful legislation.  And, I thank all of our esteemed witnesses for joining us today and look forward to hearing their testimony.

Thank you, and I yield back.