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Opening Statement of The Honorable Dina Titus, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding a hearing on this very important topic.  I also want to thank the witnesses for their attendance this morning.

First, I would like to applaud the VA for reducing the benefits backlog by 34 percent since March 2013. We hope that the VA can maintain their momentum and end the decades old backlog. Our numbers show that you are on pace to indeed reach the Secretary’s goal by 2015. I ask you to relay this message to the workforce - keep up the good work. 

As VBA continues to work through its transformation, it is important that we are working towards solutions that will improve the processes of providing veterans the benefits they have earned, in the most timely and efficient manner possible. We should be forward thinking to address the next issues, not just the problems from the past. 

Earlier this year our subcommittee worked on a package of bills that are forward looking and would help the VA provide better services to veterans. The House has passed many of these measures, and I hope the Senate will soon send them to the President for his signature. 

Specifically, my bill, the Pay As You Rate Act, would require the VA to pay veterans as each of their individual medical conditions is completed. Such an approach would result in veterans throughout Southern Nevada receiving payments in a timelier manner for their simple medical conditions.

Additionally, it seems that such an approach would offer the VA better workload management options where some of the best VA Regional Offices could specialize on those medical conditions that have proven to be more challenging such as Military Sexual Trauma and Traumatic Brain Injury. My colleague, Ranking Member Michaud, introduced a bill that would provide veterans with better decisions in a timelier manner by doing just this.

While I am proud to say we finally seem to have a system that is reducing the backlog, it is still clunky in its operational effectiveness.

I am concerned that the VA may be oversimplifying some of the more complicated medical conditions. The VA has essentially broken down a coding system with nearly a thousand medical conditions and endless variables into three lanes -- easy, medium, and hard. Complexity is usually defined at the VA as the number of medical conditions in a claim.

It is important to note however, that the number of conditions does not necessary dictate the complexity of the entire claim.  This method of evaluating complexity made sense in the paper processing world. As we look for best practices, I believe complexity should not be measured by the number of medical conditions in a claim but rather it should be measured by the complexity of evaluating and paying for specific medical conditions.

It is important that the VA look within the current system, across the 56 VA Regional Offices to identify best practices for assigning complicated work. With VBMS, the VBA can instantly broker work from one station to another to ensure the best employees are working on the most challenging cases.

Our Subcommittee and the VA share a common goal – ensuring that veterans receive the benefits they have received in a timely fashion. I hope we can work together to find the best ways to utilize VBMS and other tools to meet this goal.

Today’s hearing will explore these options, and I hope the VA will continue to work with us to implement many of our bipartisan ideas. 

I yield back.