Hon. Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member
Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for holding this important hearing.
Today we have many well-informed stakeholders in this room with us. I thank the VSO witnesses for being here and for their tireless efforts on behalf of our nation’s Veterans.
I see today’s hearing as a timely opportunity to focus on bringing more solutions to the table about how to improve the disability claims processing system to produce better outcomes for our Veterans.
We all know the problem.
Over 1.3 million claims and appeals jammed in a flawed processing system—in an organization with a current management culture that often over-emphasizes production over quality.
Well, quantity over quality will not work when it comes to our Veterans.
We need to get claims done right the first time—as if a do-over was not an option.
There’s no shortcut of getting around the basics--of having well-trained employees who are empowered with the right tools and the right systems to get the job done right the first time.
That is why I still remain concerned that the work credit system may not keep the focus on the Veterans but on churning work.
VA’s claims backlog problems are not new and many of VA’s current “new solutions” have already been done in different iterations.
What is different is that we have Veterans returning home from two wars with serious signature injuries like PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.
At least 26% of our returning Veterans will suffer from one of these injuries which require a huge commitment.
We have Veterans committing suicide in shameful numbers—the most recent figure being 18 Veterans every day. That’s one Veteran every 80 minutes—over 6500 a year.
That means that before this hearing is over a Veteran will take his or her life.
That breaks my heart.
Having any system like the current claims processing system where over 65% of claims are in the backlog also breaks my heart.
We need to get this right so that no claims are languishing and Veterans, their families and survivors get the benefits that they have earned and deserve without delay.
Like many of you, I agree with Ranking Member Filner that VA should remember that “VA” should stand for “Veteran Advocate” and not “Veteran Adversary”.
To that end, I am glad that we now have a Secretary who understands that part of VA’s mission is “ADVOCACY.”
I understand that since passage of P.L. 110-389, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, the Secretary has been a lot more receptive and inclusive of our VSO partners.
He’s done this by including them in meetings on critical issues including larger initiatives like VBMS (Veterans Benefits Management System) and e-Benefits.
I understand that there is even a Stakeholder Enterprise Portal well underway which may allow the thousands of service officers, including our state, local and county service officers to have needed access to Veterans’ claims information.
These are all great initiatives but more needs to be done.
Today, we have received a number of well-thought out and informed comments in the testimonies.
I am confident that VA will take them under serious advisement.
I warn that in order for these recommendations to receive serious consideration, it will require a culture change at VA--one where our Veterans receive the benefit of the doubt.
The VSOs, along with many other stakeholders, are the veterans’ advocates and VA needs to continue its outreach to make their voices a part of its transformation efforts.
We must continue on a path to making the claims system provided to our Veterans first-rate, world-class and uncompromised.
Where it is done right the first time.
Thank you. I yield back.