Hon. Paul W. Hodes
Thank you Chairman Michaud and Ranking Member Miller for holding this important hearing today. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today about H.R. 2192, the bipartisan bill I introduced establishing an Office of the Ombudsman in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I would also like to thank Chairman Filner for his support of the bill.
I recently visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center with the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. I talked with soldier after soldier about the problems they experienced transitioning out of active duty and into the VA. Veterans in my district have repeatedly told me their compelling stories of the great difficulties and challenges they have faced in understanding and receiving all the benefits and services to which they are entitled.
The Ombudsman’s Office should serve as the outreach master office—a coordinating and coordinated center for benefits and health information services available both within and outside of the VA.
I am not interested in creating another meaningless layer of bureaucracy. Instead, I would like the Ombudsman’s Office to become a one stop shop for veterans, a CENTCOM for veterans’ benefits information.
I applaud the VA for their hard work in providing information that veterans need. The VA has numerous hotlines and support services available to veterans. I’ve counted 10 different 1-800 numbers on the VA’s website to help with different types of benefits—one for disability pension, another for health care benefits, another for life insurance, etc.
While the VA provides veterans benefits and service information, the veterans may not know where they put their informational pamphlets six months or one year down the road when they have a question or a problem.
Veterans are falling through the cracks and do not know where to turn.
The Office of the Ombudsman would provide a focal point of information within the VA. The Ombudsman’s Office should be a one stop shop of information and resources. The Office should head up the advocacy and information campaigns that the VA already has in place, and consolidate the information services with one 1-800 number to address all the veterans’ needs and complaints.
For a veteran who has just returned from active duty in OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) or OEF (Operation for Enduring Freedom) with Traumatic Brain Injury, it would be a whole lot simpler and easier to have only one office to call to receive the information he or she needs. The VA has a patient advocacy program for healthcare, but a lot brave men and women need help with loans for their homes and schooling too. They should not have to run around asking the same ten questions to ten different offices. The Ombudsman’s Office can help the veteran figure out the all the services in the benefits system, not just health care, and not just disability ratings.
I have reviewed the testimony of the esteemed panelists, the VA and VSOs. Just in the six testimonies that specifically discussed the Ombudsman’s Office, the panelists referred to fourteen different programs both within and outside of the VA that veterans could turn to for help with benefits coordination. These fourteen programs are extremely important to our veterans and providing specialized services. But, as a healthy Member of Congress and not a PTSD patient or an ailing elderly veteran, I am even confused about which programs to use and under which circumstances.
Mr. Chairman, I am not trying to make redundant services. The Veterans Administration provides advocacy and resources, VSOs provide advocacy and resources.
I would, however, like to work with the Honorable Members of the Committee to mold the Office of the Ombudsman into a viable, helpful resource for veterans. I believe that this consolidation of various information sources into a coordinated center of information will help make sure the veterans receive the care they need and cut through the seemingly endless amounts of bureaucratic red tape.
Thank you again for giving me the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee on Health today. I look forward to working with the Committee to help veterans understand and access the benefits they deserve.