Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Honorable Michael H. Michaud, Ranking Minority Member
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today.
I would like to take a brief moment to recognize that it has been a decade since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed 6,669 American lives with 50,554 wounded in action and countless others suffering from mental injuries as a result.
Thank you to our veteran advocates on this committee and in the audience who have worked hard to assist these fine men and women.
Since March of 2003, there is much that we should be proud of: a post 9/11 GI Bill that ensures these veterans have the opportunity of an excellent college education, record increases in the administration’s budget for VA programs and services that have led to better care and access for our nation’s veterans, and many others.
However, despite these positive outcomes, we all know that challenges remain.
Of great importance to not only current era veterans, but all veterans, is our need to fix the broken claims processing system.
While the VA continues to process more claims than at any other time in its history, demand continues to outpace production. Today, VA’s total inventory is approaching 900,000 claims with more than two-thirds, or 632,000 of these claims considered as part of the backlog.
However, despite the growing backlog I am encouraged by some of the recent developments and by the shift in attitude regarding VBA’s efforts to fix the backlog.
Nonetheless, while I appreciate the Secretary’s goal of having no veteran waiting for longer than 125 days with an accuracy rating of 98% by 2015, I question whether this very, very, ambitious goal is achievable. It would require the VA to complete approximately 3.4 million claims in two and a half years. To accomplish this goal, the VA must start averaging the completion of 1.36 million claims a year; this is a 33 percent increase in productivity. These are loose projections, and I hope that the VA has better ones, but in my mind, the math simply doesn’t add up.
I also question whether VA is being upfront with Congress about its challenges. In particular, does VBA have enough employees to get the job done? I am not convinced that it does. And is VBA getting all of the information that you need from the Department of Defense in a timely fashion? I don’t believe it is.
VA’s ability to process claims in a paperless electronic environment can only be as good as the information that goes into it. If you don’t have the resources required, and you are not receiving information from DoD, or other agencies, we need to know about it.
Further, I am concerned that VBA is simply trying to automate a claims process that, at the end of the day, doesn’t work. I hope to hear some of your ideas as to how your workload management will change in an electronic setting.
Can VA visualize an electronic system in which a Veterans claim comes in not as a claim, but broken down into the various medical conditions?
For our purposes let’s suppose there are 13 medical conditions in a claim. These 13 medical conditions are not sent through the segmented lanes of the veterans’ local regional office; they are sent to 13 Regional Offices throughout the country, electronically, simultaneously, to be adjudicated at the same time.
Different RO’s specialize in different medical conditions. Challenged RO’s get the easy medical conditions; Great RO’s get the work that is the most complex. And most importantly, veterans get paid as each medical condition is completed. I challenge VA to begin thinking outside of the box.
It is an old adage that a benefit delayed is a benefit denied. Far too many veterans are waiting far too many days to receive the benefits they have earned. We are all working toward the same end – timely and accurate dispositions of claims. If we are to be successful we must work together to achieve a claims system that lives up to the service and sacrifices of our veterans.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.