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Witness Testimony of W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Distinguished Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:  thank you for the opportunity to be with you today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) accomplishments and challenges. 

I am accompanied by W. Todd Grams, Executive in Charge for the Office of Management and Chief Financial Officer. I want to thank the Committee for its ongoing partnership in our common commitment to serve our Nation’s Veterans.  We appreciate your support – especially the continued robust funding that is required to meet the growing needs of our Veterans.  Our highest priority is to care for those who have borne the battle, their families, and their survivors.

As the 112th Congress draws to a conclusion, we welcome the opportunity to report on the challenges we have faced, the lessons we have learned, and the great things that we have accomplished, all within context of the vast array of services and benefits we provide to Veterans across the globe, the number of Veterans we serve, and the complex nature of what we do. 

VA is second only to the Department of Defense (DoD) in personnel, with 320,000 employees who directly touch the lives of nine million Veterans and their families. 

We have the largest integrated health care system in the country. It includes 152 hospitals, over 800 clinics, 300 Vet Centers, more than 130 community living centers, and dozens of research facilities and more.   Since the start of this Administration, VA has handled more than 358 million medical encounters.

VA has issued over $21 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments to over 802,000 individuals and their educational institutions since the program’s inception in August 2009.  VA’s life insurance products help protect seven million clients.  And, just since the start of this Congress, VA has guaranteed over 756,000 home loans for Veterans and Servicemembers.  We are gratified that more Veterans are coming to us for the benefits they have earned.  That success also creates the challenge of meeting increased demand.

In 2009, we settled on three key priorities, which remain unchanged today:

·        A commitment to increase Veterans’ access to VA benefits and services;

·        A commitment to eliminate the benefits backlog in compensation claims—in 2015; and

·        A commitment to end Veteran homelessness—also in 2015.

My testimony today, consequently, will be organized around the challenges and achievements and challenges in these three areas:  (1) increasing Veteran access, (2) improvements in claims processing; and (3) ending Veteran homelessness.

VA is proud of the progress it has made in increasing access to quality health care for Veterans.  Our goal is not just easier availability, but access to the highest quality healthcare in the United States.  We continue to innovate to provide better health care that is closer to the Veteran.  VHA’s ASPIRE program offers Veterans, their families, and the public the opportunity to examine detailed data on any VA medical center’s performance in safety, effectiveness, efficiency, timeliness, and other areas. 

VA has taken this a step beyond the usual level of performance reporting, in that we do not simply accept being better than others in many metrics as satisfactory; rather, we aspire to the highest level of performance, especially when it comes to patient safety. The robustness of our performance measures allows VHA to identify practices that help improve outcomes versus those that do not, and to transfer these best practices across the system to improve the care we deliver as a whole.  Awareness of performance inspires leaders at all levels to constantly improve by instilling a sense of excellence among peers, and providing the best possible care to Veterans is a powerful motivation for all VHA employees.

Access also means more points of service.  Since 2009, VHA has funded the opening of 51 new community-based outpatient clinics (CBOC) located in rural areas nationwide and supported the opening of 40 new outreach clinics that, at a minimum, provide primary care, on-site case management, and access to specialty mental health care.  We will always do everything in our power to find ways to reach out to Veterans in need. 

VHA has dedicated great resources and innovative thinking to improving access to quality health care in rural areas.  It is a national leader in establishing telehealth capabilities.  In FY2011, clinical video telehealth, home telehealth, and store-and-forward telehealth provided care from more than 150 VA Medical Centers and 750 CBOCs to more than 380,000 Veterans.  We expect this number to increase by an additional 100,000 in FY2012.  Telehealth provides access to more than 35 areas of specialty care, reduces the need for travel, and provides high levels of patient satisfaction.  VA and Veterans further benefit by reducing the number of bed days of care and reducing travel costs.  VA has established three regional centers for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) telemental health to augment services among facilities and networks.  VA has also been involved in the launch of the PTSD Coach smartphone application, the first in a suite of mental health applications for mobile devices.

We are very proud of the VA Primary Family Caregiver Support Program, which has been accepting applications since May 9, 2011. Congress put forth a major effort to create this program, which is a significant new benefit for families who are sacrificing to provide seriously injured Veterans with care day-in and day-out.  As of August 30, 2012, there are over 5,900 primary family caregivers - and the Veterans they care for - who are benefiting from this important new source of support.

Access to quality mental health services is a vital priority.  In 2005, at the height of operations in Iraq, we had 13,000 mental health professionals handling the health care needs of our Veterans. Today, there are more than 20,000, and we recently announced our plans to hire 1,600 more clinical staff, bringing our total mental health staff up to approximately 22,000 professionals - to address the growth in mental health requirements spawned by the burdens of a decade of combat deployments shouldered by our all-volunteer force and their families. 

One of our most successful outreach efforts is our Veterans' Crisis Line. DoD knows it as the Military Crisis Line—using the same phone number and the same trained VA mental health professionals to respond to calls, with no cost to DoD.  Since 2007, over 640,000 people have called in, including over 8,000 active-duty Servicemembers. We have made over 99,000 referrals for care and rescued over 23,000 from potential suicide. Younger Veterans may be more comfortable with chatting and texting, so in 2009 we added on-line chat, and in 2011, a texting service.  We know that when we diagnose and treat, people get better.  Among the 8.6 million Veterans enrolled in VA health care, the total number of Veterans receiving mental health treatment has increase from 897,643 in FY 2005 to 1,338,482 in FY 2011. 

At the same time, for Veterans receiving VA treatment, suicide rates are down because treatment works.  In FY 2009, the suicide rate among individuals with mental health or substance use disorder was 56.4 per 100,000, as compared to 23.5 among patients without these disorders.  This continues a steady trend of lowering rate ratios observed since FY 2001, when the rate among patients with mental health or substance use disorder diagnosis was 78.0 as compared to 24.7 among patients without these diagnoses.

Vet Centers are a very successful way we are reaching Veterans and families with support and counseling.  In FY 2011, Vet Centers provided 189,811 Veterans and families with 1,377,028 visits, a 9 percent increase in direct counseling services from fiscal year 2010. This included providing 18,553 Veteran families with 91,716 visits.

Another area of increasing progress is access to quality health-care that meets the needs of women Veterans.  Women make up 15 percent of today’s active duty military forces, and about 337,000 are currently using the VA health care system.  The population of women Veterans using VA is increasing at a rapid pace—doubling in the last decade. To meet the needs of this growing Veteran community, VA is enhancing care and access for women Veterans by implementing Comprehensive Primary Care and designating a staff member as the women’s health liaison at each CBOC.  VA also applauds the Congress’ recent enactment of a measure that allows us to establish a child-care pilot that is serving as a great help to Veterans by on-site child-care at select VA medical centers, making use of their health care benefits that much easier.  That law also allowed VA to provide a period of care for newborn children of Veterans receiving maternity care.

Mr. Chairman, I believe that access includes to job opportunities, and to all the tools VA can offer to help those making the transition from military service.  In August 2011, the President directed DoD and VA to lead the Veterans Employment Initiative (VEI) Task Force and provide recommendations to maximize the career readiness of all Servicemembers. 

I would like to applaud this Congress for passing the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011,” which included steps to improve the existing Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for Servicemembers.  Among other things, the VOW Act made participation in several components of TAP mandatory for all Servicemembers.  VA and DoD have made progress in implementing VEI Task Force recommendations and preparing for the requirements of this law. 

The VOW Act also created the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) for unemployed Veterans between the ages 35 and 60 years old.  VRAP provides up to 12 months of training assistance towards an associate’s degree or certificate in a high-demand career field for up to 99,000 Veterans.  As of September 7, 2012, over 55,000 Veterans have applied for the program.  It also provides tax incentives to companies that hire Veterans, and extended VA’s special employer incentives under our Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. 

VA is proud to have partnered with the First Lady's "Joining Forces" initiative and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Hiring Our Heroes" campaign. The President challenged private companies to hire or train 100,000 Veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.  To date, 2,100 companies have committed to 175,000 hires, and 125,000 Veterans and spouses have already been hired.  VA held its own hiring fairs in Washington, DC, and Detroit, Michigan, earlier this year. Over 12,000 Veterans participated, and over 8,000 interviews were conducted.  More than 1,700 job offers were made on the spot, and participants continue to receive offers.

VA also conducted two Veteran-owned small-business training expositions in the past 12 months—our opportunity to educate Veteran small business owners on our procurement requirements and allow the 3,500 who showed up to demonstrate their capabilities and improve their preparation of competitive proposals for government contracts. The bottom line is this: Veterans hire Veterans. So the more successful Veteran entrepreneurs we cultivate, the better the opportunities for Veterans employment.

Access also means affording Veterans opportunities in federal contracting.  Under the Veterans First Contracting Program, VA greatly expanded opportunities for service-disabled Veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and Veteran-owned small business (VOSB).  In FY 2011, preliminary data indicate that VA’s total award to small businesses was nearly $5.9 billion, or 33.3 percent of all VA procurements.  This far exceeded the national goal of 23 percent for small business procurements.  Additionally, VA surpassed the government minimum of 3 percent for SDVOSBs, and its own internal goal of 12 percent for VOSBs and 10 percent for SDVOSBs, with 20.5 percent going to VOSBs and 18.2 percent going to SDVOSBs. 

Access for VA also means ensuring that Veterans have every educational opportunity available they have earned through their service.  As of September 10, 2012, VA issued over $21.4 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments to over 802,200 individuals and their educational institutions since inception in August 2009.  Since the program’s enactment, VA has implemented multiple legislative changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, without disrupting the flow of benefits to students. These changes included expanding Veterans’ educational options under the Post 9/11 GI Bill to include technical on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.  This expansion makes Post 9/11 GI Bill educational offerings consistent with those under other benefits programs and allows beneficiaries to pursue shorter-term training prior to entering the job market.  VA has also developed a processing system that automates components of the education claims process and continues to focus on timely benefits delivery.  Full automation of a subset of claims is expected this Fall.

VA also is taking steps to support Veterans on campus.  The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) program is designed to provide on-campus benefits assistance and adjustment counseling to Veterans.  The program encourages Veteran-students to complete a college education and prepare to enter the labor market in viable careers.  As of September 10, 2012, 28 VSOC sites were established at campuses throughout the country that provide outreach, counseling, and benefits assistance to Veteran-students and their families.

 

Access also means the honor of interment at one of VA’s 131 national cemeteries.  NCA has opened six new national cemeteries since 2009, and lowered the Veteran population threshold to allow improved access for more Veteran families to better avail themselves of benefits those Veterans have earned.  In addition, since 2009 VA has awarded grants to support the opening of 15 new State Veterans cemeteries and four tribal Veterans cemeteries.  Since 2009, VA has helped expand existing State cemeteries and assisted them in achieving higher standards and appearance and service through $65.9 million in grants to 28 cemeteries.  NCA continues its extraordinary record of customer service, receiving 94 points out of 100 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index in 2010– the highest in either the federal government or the private sector.  NCA was also awarded the Achievement in Excellence Award by the State of Virginia, the highest award given by the state in 2011.

A critical aspect of access is making VA and DoD work together as never before to serve those men and women making the transition from Servicemember to Veteran.  Providing a ‘seamless’ transition between VA and DoD is a complex and multi-faceted challenge, but it is vital to ensuring care for those who have served this Nation.  As Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Panetta stated in testimony before this Committee in its joint hearing with the House Armed Services Committee in July, we have brought our Departments closer together than ever before. 

As we highlighted in that hearing, DoD and VA have increased the number of Servicemembers and Veterans whose electronic data is shared between the two Departments by 1.1 million.  That 1.1 million increase includes the increased sharing of:

•         23 million more laboratory results;

•         3.6 million more radiology reports; and

•         24 million more pharmacy records.

As this Committee knows, the Integrated Electronic Health Record – or iEHR -- is an ambitious effort that will take some time, but VA and DoD have committed to a fully operational iEHR no later than 2017, with clinical capabilities deployed in Hampton Roads and San Antonio in 2014 — a significant challenge, but one that is critical to achieve for our Nation’s Veterans and Servicemembers.  The result will be a single , standard open architecture and modular electronic health record system that will improve quality and lower total costs for VA and DoD.

In the July joint hearing, VA highlighted progress in getting Veterans access to their benefits information through online tools such as Blue Button and eBenefits.   The Blue Button is a joint program between the Department of Health and Human Services, DoD, and VA that provides Veterans on-demand access to personal health information at the click of a button, delivered in a format that is easy to read and accessible without any special software.  President Obama announced this in the summer of 2010 and it was officially launched that October.  Today, [nearly?] one million Servicemembers and Veterans have downloaded electronic copies of their personal health records. 

VA and DoD also have shown concrete results in the eBenefits portal, the joint VA/DoD client-services portal for life-long engagement with Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families.  Thanks to DoD leadership, Servicemembers now automatically sign up for eBenefits when they enter service.  eBenefits enrollment now exceeds 1.8 million users, and VA expects enrollment to exceed 2.5 million by the end of 2013.  The eBenefits portal provides over 45 self-service features to check the status of a claim or appeal; review the history of VA payments; request and download military personnel records; secure a certificate of eligibility for a VA home loan; and numerous other benefit actions.  We aggressively continue to expand and update online self-service and access capabilities.  We are engaging our Veterans Service Organization partners in registering Veterans for eBenefits accounts.  In the coming months, Servicemembers will be able to complete their Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance applications and transactions through eBenefits.  Recent enhancements allow Veterans to view their scheduled VA medical appointments.  They will soon be able to file benefits claims online and upload supporting information that feeds our paperless process.

 

VA and DoD completed implementation of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) at 139 sites globally on September 30, 2011.  IDES is aimed at achieving an integrated process for wounded, ill, and injured Servicemembers who face potential medical separations.  We have improved transparency and consistency of outcomes, while reducing processing times between a Servicemember’s referral for a fitness determination and receipt of VA benefits.  As of August 26, 2012, we have reduced the processing time under the separate DoD and VA legacy processes from about 540 to 395 days.  Our goal is 295 days.  Total processing time for the month of August, as of August 26, was down to 375 days.  VA’s portion of this goal is 100 days, and we have been as low as 105 days before responding to surges in military departures.  In the month of August, as of August 26, VA processing time was 114 days.

Turning from access to VA benefits and services to the second of VA’s three top priorities, eliminating the claims backlog is perhaps our largest and most complex challenge.  We are aggressively tackling this challenge on multiple fronts.  The disability claims workload from the newest generation of returning Veterans, as well as from Veterans of earlier periods, continues to increase.  VBA’s annual claims receipts increased 48 percent over the last four years, from 888,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2011.  The growth in disability claims volume is driven by a number of factors, including:

  • Additional presumptive disabilities associated with Agent Orange exposure,
  • New regulations for processing certain claims related to Gulf War service, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
  • Growth in the average number of medical conditions for which each claimant files;
  • Improved access to benefits through the joint VA and DoD pre-discharge programs such as the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES);
  • Ten years of war with increased survival rates;
  • Successful extensive use of VA of outreach programs encouraging more Veterans to submit claims; and
  • Post-conflict downsizing of the military.

     

Several of these factors, including the addition of presumptive disabilities associated with Agent Orange and regulatory changes, were the result of VA decisions to expand benefits during this Administration.  These decisions – the right ones to make for our Veterans – dramatically expanded access to benefits and services.  In the face of an increasing workload, VBA must deliver first-rate and timely benefits and services – and they must be delivered with greater efficiency.  These decisions make it critical that we dedicate the right resources, technology, and innovation to eliminating the backlog. 

VA also is pursuing its Transformation Plan, a series of tightly integrated people, process, and technology initiatives designed to eliminate the claims backlog and achieve our goal of processing all claims within 125 days with 98 percent quality in 2015. 

Through people-focused initiatives, we are strengthening the expertise of our workforce by changing the way we are organized and trained to do the work.  We are also increasing the productivity of our workforce and the quality of our decisions through national training programs and standards.  We estimate that these “people” initiatives will contribute to a 15-20 percent improvement in productivity and four percent improvement in quality when fully implemented in all regional offices.

Through process-improvement initiatives, we are rapidly developing and testing streamlined processes, focusing on eliminating repetition and rework in the claims process while delivering optimal service.  We expect our process initiatives to contribute to a 15-20 percent increase in productivity and a minimum four percent improvement in claims quality when fully implemented nationwide. 

These increases in productivity cited above due to people, process, and technology improvements are additive.

Through technology Initiatives, we are deploying solutions that improve access, drive automation, reduce variance, and enable faster and more efficient operations.  Our new paperless claims processing solution, the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) is a key component in eliminating the backlog.  Our technology initiatives aim to improve access and increase efficiency, with goals to contribute to an additional 15-20 percent increase in productivity and a four to six percent improvement in claims quality.

VBA has implemented the Transformation Organizational Model (TOM) at 18 regional offices to date.  Thirty-eight regional offices will implement TOM by the end of December 2013.  VBMS, a key component of our technology solutions, is currently being piloted at four regional offices and will be deployed to all stations by the end of 2013. 

Our third top priority is to use all the tools at our disposal, including partnerships with other Federal agencies, States, community providers, and volunteers to end Veterans Homelessness. VA offers a comprehensive continuum of homelessness services which are coordinated with community efforts.  We want to thank the Committee for its partnership and commitment in this effort – it is truly appreciated.  When HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announces its 2012 Point-in-Time estimate of homeless Veterans, we expect additional progress to be made and to stay on track to end Veterans' homelessness in 2015.  Between the 2010 and the 2011 point in time counts, veteran homeless has decreased nearly 12 percent.

VA’s Loan Guaranty Program has also played a part in this effort.  Since January 2011, VA has helped over 119,000, or 82.5 percent of, defaulted VA borrowers avoid foreclosure.  This foreclosure avoidance assistance translated into an average estimated $4.2 billion in foreclosure claim payments avoided.  In many cases, VA intervened, working with Veterans’ financial institutions to lower interest rates and payments or modify loan repayment terms to keep Veterans and their families in their homes.

In addition, VA’s National Cemetery Administration has implemented a new Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program in collaboration with VHA and VA Learning University.  This program will create paid employment positions as Cemetery Caretakers – successful completion of twelve months of training will result in permanent full-time employment.

Leadership
We cannot talk about achievements and challenges without talking about the leadership, management, and organizational structures required to make change happen.  Good will and dedication are not enough, and we owe it to Veterans and taxpayers to provide the best return on every dollar appropriated to meet the Nation’s debt to our Veterans.

In 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs faced significant internal and external challenges.  Despite a cohort of dedicated, caring, and committed employees, the organization was experiencing problems.   President Obama seized the opportunity to initiate a sweeping transformation of VA, with the goal of creating a more effective and efficient organization.  He charged Secretary Shinseki to transform VA into a high-performing 21st century organization.   VA launched a transformation effort that emphasized:

·         Cultural Change:  This critical facet of the transformation binds all transformation initiatives together, enabling VA to change its relationship with Veterans fundamentally -- treating them as clients and continually emphasizing new and better ways to serve them.   To that end, Advocacy is a prominent value among the five core values that imbue our work at VA with purpose including: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.

·         Modernization and Innovation:  VA facilities, systems, programs, and business processes required updating and cutting-edge technological solutions.

·         Integration and Collaboration:  Critical to the transformation was the integration of disparate support services, including Information Technology (IT), Human Resources (HR), Acquisitions and Logistics, and Financial Management.  Additionally, serving Veterans necessitated an enhanced collaborative relationship with the DoD and other federal entities.  To that end, the Secretaries of VA and DoD have met an unprecedented 10 times since 2009, and for the first time ever, testified  before a joint hearing of this Committee and the House Armed Services Committee in July 2012 to report on our collaborative efforts.. 

·         Disciplined Decision Making Based Upon Data, Metrics, and Performance Monitoring:  VA has developed and deployed a comprehensive performance management system.  Program planning is informed by evaluation of program efficiency and effectiveness supported by new measures of critical success factors.

·         Access and Responsiveness:  To become a more accessible and responsive organization, VA needed to expand and enhance its connections with Veterans, and emphasize accountability and transparency through improved outreach, use of new media as well as traditional field visits.

VA’s transformation also required fundamental changes in management infrastructure to coordinate operations across business lines and hold managers accountable for effective delivery of services.   This required closer integration of four major organizational components of VA:  VBA, VHA, and NCA, as well as the VA Central Office (VACO) policy and program staffs.  New and more robust business systems support unity of action through better oversight, consolidation of support services, and enterprise-level efforts aimed at serving Veterans in a more comprehensive and holistic fashion.  For example, eliminating Veteran homelessness required budget allocations and project management support from VACO, as well as health professionals from VHA; housing and employment specialists from VBA; and IT systems to integrate, track, and unify the effort.  As an example of utilizing all of VA in this integrated effort, NCA is offering job apprenticeship opportunities for Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. 

Public outreach was coordinated with members of Congress, our Veterans Service Organizations, and the media.  That outreach also helped galvanize the activities of  State and local governments, as well as non-profit and faith-based organizations on whom our success depends.

Tighter integration also requires leaders to work within a more transparent governance process so that senior leadership can achieve their respective transformation objectives by leveraging three resources:

·         People – Human resources for strategic management and staffing;

·         Money– Sufficient budgetary resources for the right programs; and

·         Things – Modern and innovative IT systems as well as our extended supply chain for goods and services, and other enabling technologies.

As a result of the focus on these management drivers, VA has reduced the average time to hire VA employees from 102 to 87 days; trained 300,000 employees through the VA Learning University (VALU); implemented the Project Management Accountability System (PMAS), increasing VA’s accountability for IT projects with on-time delivery to over 80 percent; established the Strategic Acquisition Center (SAC) to leverage VA’s spending power and improve contracting and procurement activities; produced a long-term strategic investment plan to identify gaps and optimize utilization of capital resources; developed and deployed over 20 dynamic performance dashboard views to support executive decision making; and issued security access cards known as Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards to nearly 100 percent of VA employees, contractors, and affiliates.  These changes in internal capabilities have enabled more effective and efficient delivery of services and benefits to Veterans.

I want to address the issue of training conferences, as there was one recent well-publicized instance that called into question VA stewardship of taxpayer dollars.  This particular conference occurred before VA had taken significant steps to establish tighter controls and more accountability for conference expenditures.  I will make two points – first, that VA is redoubling its efforts to prevent instances of misuse of funds or wasteful spending.  At the same time, we must be very cautious not to curtail conferences that have demonstrated value in training our employees and developing innovative approaches that ultimately save money and serve our Veterans better. Hopefully, you will see that VA’s transformation efforts are providing value to the Nation and profoundly changing our services to Veterans.

These actions will ensure real lasting progress on the Secretary’s three priorities: better access to quality health care, services, and benefits, eliminating the claims backlog, and ending Veteran homelessness. 

Our team and our dedicated employees have achieved the following:

·        The number of Veterans receiving VA disability compensation has increased by 21 percent  from FY2008 to August FY2012;

·        Vocational Rehabilitation (Ch 31) participants increased by 15 percent from FY2008 to August of FY2012;

·        The number of Veterans compensated for PTSD increased by 64 percent from FY2008 to August of FY2012;

·        Created an automated system, provided GI Bill benefits to nearly 800,000 individuals since 2009– comprising nearly half of all Veterans (or their eligible family members) who have served since 9/11 – over 800,000 individuals.  The number of education beneficiaries increased by 63 percent from FY2008 to August of FY2012;

·        Delivered average pensions of $11,000 into the hands of more than 300,000 Veterans living at the poverty level, and $6,500 per year to 250,000 of their survivors – caring for over half a million elderly Veterans who otherwise might be destitute and potentially homeless;

·        Through the VA Home Loan Homeless Prevention program, kept over 83,000 Servicemembers, Veterans, and survivors in their homes in FY2011 alone;

·        Life Insurance coverage for disabled Veterans increased by  31 percent from FY2008 to August FY2012 ;

·        Created an internet eBenefits portal that is a “place to go” for Veterans and Servicemembers for health care, employment, insurance, disability compensation, and GI Bill information, and added over 45 new capabilities;.

·        Built and piloted a paperless claims processing system that will be the core of our effort to eliminate the claims backlog and that lowered the average processing time from 250 to 115 days;

·        Expanded access to allow almost 700,00 more Veterans to enroll in VA health care; 

·        Delivered high quality health care to an additional 600,000 Veterans between FY2008 and FY2012;

·        Recruited over 150,000 Veterans in a cutting-edge study evaluating genomic medicine;

·        Treated 12 percent more unique patients in VA Health Care facilities increased from FY2008 to FY2012;

·        Opened the first new state-of-the-art medical center in 17 years in Las Vegas, as well as more than fifty CBOCs to deliver high quality primary and mental health care to more than 215,000 Veterans closer to home;

·        Trained over 4,000 mental health providers in evidence-based psychotherapies for PTSD and other mental health conditions;

·        Identified locations for the development of five new national cemeteries that will provide burial access to an additional 500,000 Veterans and their eligible family members.  In total, VA plans to provide 95 percent of the Veteran population – approximately 21 million individuals – with access to a burial option in a national or state Veterans cemetery within 75 miles of their homes by the end of FY 2015;

·        Identified locations for the development of five new national cemeteries and five new columbarium in urban locations;

·        Identified eight rural National Veterans Burial Grounds to serve low-density Veteran populations; and,

·        Began our work with DoD to create the single electronic medical record system that will serve over 15 million patients under VA and DoD health systems every year;

As we have detailed here, these are big challenges that are requiring our best minds and most determined and talented employees to take on, and there is much work to do.  I am grateful that Congress has been both our partner and our constructive critic as we’ve forged ahead. 

Mr. Chairman, I will be glad to answer any questions you or the other Members of the Committee have.