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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The stated purpose of the hearing is to examine the VA’s poorly performing regional offices. 

Today’s hearing also continues this Subcommittee’s efforts from the 110th and 111th Congresses to analyze various elements of the compensation and pension claims process--to improve performance of the system as a whole and to ensure accurate and accountable claims outcomes for our veterans.  It is our collective quest to vanquish VBA’s backlog of claims and appeals, which currently exceeds one million.

Since 2007, the VBA has added over 10,000 claims processing personnel and Congress has funded these requests.  Yet the backlog still climbs.  However, merely adding more people to the same broken system does not expedite benefits to veterans and their families.  We need to continue to look at the system with fresh eyes to help VA with managing its claims processing mission.

At the time of its enactment, the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, P.L. 110-389, was embraced by many stakeholders as a way forward for VA to revamp and modernize its claims processing system--to bring relief to those veterans, their families and survivors who were languishing in an antiquated system in dire need of reform.  

I am pleased that P.L. 110-389 also laid the foundation for a number of initiatives that VA is currently undertaking, particularly its Veterans Benefits Management System and Veteran Relationship Management Initiatives, as well as, the Business Transformation Lab in Providence, Rhode Island; the Claims Processing Pilot in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the Virtual Regional Office in nearby Baltimore, Maryland.  It also helped with eliminating confusion regarding the PTSD stressor proof requirements.

However, the need is still there to focus on comprehensive reform that will result in a system that reflects improved accountability, accuracy, quality assurance and timeliness of claims processing for our Veterans, their families and survivors.

As the VA OIG recently concluded in its report after the inspection review of 16 VA ROs, VBA is processing 23% of its claims erroneously.  To change this, the VAOIG recommended that VA needs to enhance policy guidance, compliance oversight, workload management, training and supervisory review in order to improve claims processing operations.

These conclusions echo many of the provisions in P.L. 110-389 and the continued chorus from Congress and other stakeholders that say time and again that the backlog is just a symptom of the problem:  the current system is broken and in need of a major overhaul.  We need to focus on getting the claim right the first time.

I look forward to hearing about how VA plans to implement these recommendations. While I know that VA has developed a number of  forward-thinking pilots and laboratory initiatives, how will they help put VA on track to processing its compensation and pension claims in a virtual environment using a twenty-first century processing platform and ensuring quality outcomes.

How will it help deliver the promise to improve accuracy, consistency, quality and accountability of the claims processing system? 

However, I must caution, that with all of the irons that VA has in the claims processing fire: let us not confuse activity for action or confuse processes with progress.  The Committee will continue to stringently conduct oversight to ensure that this confusion does not occur.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back my time.