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Opening Statement of Honorable Jon Runyan, Chairman, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Good afternoon and welcome everyone.  The first oversight hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs for the 113th Congress will now come to order.  

I’d like to begin this hearing by welcoming all the members of our Subcommittee, including our new ranking member, Congresswoman Titus.   I am honored to have the opportunity to continue Chairing the DAMA Subcommittee this Congress and look forward to working with all of you.  It is my hope that we will all come together in a bi-partisan way and share ideas to best serve our nation’s veterans and find practical solutions to the issues before this Subcommittee.   

Our hearing topic today will focus on temporary total disability ratings.  Temporary total disability ratings serve a very important function in the benefits scheme.  This type of rating is assigned when it is established by medical evidence that surgery or certain treatment was performed, necessitating a period of recovery during which the veteran cannot work.

However, according to a January 2011 report by the VA Office of the Inspector General, VBA has not been correctly processing and monitoring such claims.  As a result, the OIG stated that since January 1993, VBA has overpaid veterans a net amount of $943 million.  The OIG also stated that without timely action, VBA would overpay veterans a projected $1.1 billion over the next five years.

These numbers are troubling, to say the least.  As all of us here today are aware, our nation’s fiscal health is one of this Congress’s top priorities.  Part of this process includes trimming government spending and eliminating government waste.  It is my hope that by bringing attention to this topic, we can ensure that every dollar appropriated to VA is being spent properly on care and benefits for our veterans.

We heard from VA in June of last year during sworn testimony, that these errors were due to a computer glitch.  VA advised that the glitch would be fixed by July 2012.  

Nonetheless, two new Regional Office audits issued by the OIG last month found that 50 percent of the temporary 100 percent disability evaluations reviewed were incorrect. The explanations given in the OIG audits stated that the 50 percent accuracy rate occurred because staff did not establish controls to monitor the proposed reductions initially, nor did they schedule future medical examinations as required.

So – something doesn’t add up here.  If the computer glitch was fixed in July 2012 but over 50 percent of temporary total rating claims are still being processed incorrectly as of January 2013, then that leads me to believe that these are human errors, not computer errors.

All of us here today are well-aware of the growing workload faced by claims examiners.  However, we must remember that even though each VA employee touches many veterans’ files every day, an individual veteran has only one file, so it’s important to process every claim correctly the first time.

 I want to thank the Vietnam Veterans of America, the OIG, and VA for their valuable input as we work together to find a solution to this problem.

I welcome today’s witnesses to continue this ongoing discussion and offer their own specific recommendations on how to improve not just temporary total disability claims processing, but the entire system of processing veterans’ disability claims.  

I would now call on the Ranking Member for her opening statement.