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Opening Statement of Honorable Jerry Mcnerney, Ranking Member of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I would like to thank you for holding today’s hearing.

The purpose of this hearing is to focus on the transition process of Service members to Veterans, with a particular focus on the implementation of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), a joint VA/DoD examination and records integration effort initiated in 2007 as a result of the fallout from deplorable conditions and disjointed care of Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

This hearing will allow us to not just assess the effectiveness of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), but other components of the Pre-Discharge Program established by the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), and to streamline service members’ transition from active duty to Veterans’ status.  

Today’s discussion on IDES also follows up on our work implementing the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, public law 110-389, which also paved the way for a number of initiatives targeting the VA claims backlog.  

In 2007, the Dole-Shalala Commission, set recommendations for the care of wounded warriors, and concluded that it is not enough to merely patch the system for transition to civilian life, as has been done in the past.  The experiences of our men and women returning home complaining about a lack of a clear outline of the access to care, benefits, and services available to them highlighted the need for fundamental changes in the care management and disability systems.

The Dole-Shalala findings marked the siren call for the creation of the Disability Evaluation System—a joint effort between DoD and VA to move to a one-exam platform, which today we know as the Integrated Disability evaluation System or IDES.

We must make every effort to focus our resources toward assisting transitioning service members with the comprehensive, coordinated care and benefits they deserve. This must occur at the very beginning of a service member’s reintegration.  

To this end, any member of the Armed Forces who has seen active duty—including those in the National Guard or Reserves—is eligible to apply for VA disability benefits prior to leaving military service through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge, Quick Start, or IDES pre-discharge programs.  

During the application process, servicemembers can get help in completing forms and preparing other required documentation from VA personnel located at their bases. Additionally, IDES combines the health exam required by the DOD upon exiting the military and the VA disabilities assessment exam into a single process, albeit for different purposes.  

 In the meantime, in an effort to provide even greater transition assistance, more elements and players, like the Federal Recovery Coordination Program have been added to assist our wounded warriors.

I know the intent of these programs are well-meaning, and have helped numerous Veterans across the country. But I still hear from Veterans in my district who have gone through these programs, and continue to experience significant delays, confusion and other problems with effective reintegration.

In fact, to that end, I would like to mention that Mr. Barrow has a helpful bill pending before the Health Subcommittee, H.R 3016, that would improve reintegration efforts and require that the Federal Recovery Coordination Program operate jointly under both DoD and VA.

Since its full implementation at the end of 2011, IDES has been expanded from 3 military bases to more than 139 sites globally and nationally.  

With the drawdown of troops over the next few years, I am particularly concerned by the fact that the average processing times takes 400 days, and that there are about 200,000 service members already in the system.  We don’t need another backlog and want to avoid that outcome at all costs.  

I look forward to having an open dialogue with the panels here today, and with my colleague, on ways to overcome challenges within the IDES system, and accelerate processing without sacrificing quality. Separating service members should not wait more than a year for their assessments and benefits.

It is my hope that through our examination of the IDES and other pre-discharge programs today, coupled with the electronic integration and other business reformation efforts accomplished over the last few years, we will continue to improve and transform today’s VA claims processing system and help our Servicemembers successfully transition back into our communities.  And NOT into another backlog.  

I look forward to hearing from all of our esteemed witnesses. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back.