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Witness Testimony of Lieutenant General James Terry Scott, USA (Ret.), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Chairman, Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation

Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborn, Members of the Subcommittee:  It is my pleasure to appear before you today representing the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation.  The Committee is chartered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs under the provisions of 38 U.S.C. & 546 in compliance with P.L. 110-389 to advise the Secretary with respect to the maintenance and periodic readjustment of the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities.  Our charter is to “(A)ssemble and review relevant information relating to the needs of veterans with disabilities; provide information relating to the character of disabilities arising from service in the Armed Forces; provide and on-going assessment of the effectiveness of the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities; and provide on-going advice on the most appropriate means of responding to the needs of veterans relating to disability compensation in the future.”

The Committee has met eight times and is drafting an interim report to the Secretary that addresses our efforts to date.  Our focus is in three areas of disability compensation:  Requirements and methodology for reviewing and updating the VASRD; adequacy and sequencing of transition compensation and procedures for service members transitioning to veteran status with special emphasis on seriously ill or wounded service members; and disability compensation for non-economic loss (often referred to as quality of life). 

You asked me to present my views on the issues surrounding the VA’s disability claims processing system.  The Committee’s charter and efforts to date have addressed the processing system only in the sense that an updated and clarified Rating Schedule will enable examining, rating and reviewing officials to make a more accurate and timely assessment of a veteran’s disability and its effect on his or her average earnings loss. An updated and clarified Rating Schedule should improve first time accuracy and reduce the number of appeals and the backlog that appeals create.

Recent studies by the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission, the Institute of Medicine, the General Accounting Office and others have consistently recommended a systematic review and update process for the VASRD.  The Congress has repeatedly demanded the same.  I believe that the case for such a system is made.  My Committee has informally recommended to the Secretary that the Deputy Secretary be tasked with oversight of the VASRD systematic review and update process to insure that the VBA,VHA and General Counsel are fully integrated into the process.  We are also offering a proposed level of permanent staffing in both VBA and VHA to insure that all fifteen body systems are reviewed and updated, as necessary, in a timely way.  We are proposing a priority among the body systems that takes into account the following: body systems that are at greatest risk of inappropriate evaluations; body systems are considered problem prone, and relative number of veterans and veterans’ payments associated with each body system. 

Regarding disability compensation for non-economic loss, also referred to as quality of life, we are reviewing the Special Monthly Compensation program and analyzing options for forms of compensation beyond a monetary stipend.

Regarding disability compensation related to transition from service member to veteran status, we are reviewing the many recent changes and improvements to the transition programs to determine if and where gaps in coverage and assistance may remain for veterans and families.  We are also reviewing the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education program as it relates  to transition for disabled veterans.

In summary, our Committee’s work is progressing on a broad front.  The parameters of our charter offer us the opportunity to look at all aspects of disability compensation and we are doing so.   The Committee has excellent access to the Secretary and his staff.  The VA staff is responsive and helpful to the Committee’s requests for information.  It is our intent to offer interim reports to the Secretary semi-annually.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I welcome any comments or questions.