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Opening Statement of Hon. Jerry McNerney, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I would like to thank you for holding today’s hearing.  
The goal of today’s hearing is to examine the various FY 2013 budget requests of agencies over which the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee exercises jurisdiction, including the U.S. Department Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and National Cemetery Administration (NCA); the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC); and the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).  

These organizations oversee many major benefits, services and protections for our nation’s veterans, their families, and survivors--ranging from providing compensation, pension and burial benefits to ensuring appellate rights, to maintaining our National Shrine requirements both here and abroad.  I look forward to hearing how these benefits and services will be administered with the optimal levels of efficiency and effectiveness with the new budget request.  

Today’s hearing is an important one.  As all of you know, Congress is working hard to balance our budget and reduce the deficit while at the same time provide earned and needed benefits to veterans and their families.  

The overall FY 2013 VA budget request is $140.3 billion. Of the total Department Budget request, $76.3 billion (54.4%) is designated for mandatory funding to pay and administer benefits to Veterans, their families and survivors.  This represents 16.2% increase from the 2012 level of $70.6 billion.  This Administration has shown that supporting the troops and our veterans is not just a slogan – it’s a commitment.

Like many of the VSOs and other stakeholders who represent our veterans, one of my top priorities is to continue to address the glacial nature of the claims process and the systemic challenges of accuracy and accountability.  It is a disgrace that we have such a large claims backlog, and it is an insult to the veterans who have served our Nation.  There is no valid reason that we are still processing claims with 20th Century technology and paradigms.  

I agree with Secretary Shinseki that we need to get our claims process under control to deliver these benefits in a 21st century, veteran-focused manner.  Get the claim right the first time, and don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

The VA reports that it is making progress on this front and the budget seems to support its commitment, particularly on the IT front.  However, I don’t want VA to confuse activity with progress.  Further, I don’t want VA to place the promise of new technologies on top of flawed systems because that will just result in inaccurate decisions rendered more quickly. Comprehensive reform is in order.  Finally, I also want to know more about the budgetary implications of the contract with ACS, Inc. to develop hundreds of thousands of pending claims.

With that, I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today.  I particularly thank the VSO members of the Independent Budget for your diligence and commitment in helping to ensure the VA’s budget is sufficient to meet the needs of our Veterans.

I welcome the opportunity to work closely with you and all of my colleagues to make sure that the needs of our Veterans, those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and those of the Veterans from our previous conflicts, are met.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.