Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of The Honorable Timothy Walz, U.S. House of Representatives
Thank you, Chairman Runyan and Ranking Member Titus, for your leadership and for inviting us here today to speak on H.R. 4191, the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.
With the hard-earned experience of two major wars during the last 12 years, Americans have developed a renewed understanding of the need to support our service members in battle and throughout their active-duty service.
Unfortunately, our warriors' battles don't always end when they return home. We've heard from many veterans who have returned bearing the scars of war — mental and physical disabilities incurred while protecting our freedoms. All they expect is that, in return for their service, our nation keeps its promises to them.
With the end of the war in Iraq, and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, the number of disabled veterans who need care is increasing exponentially. Despite the fact the Department of Veterans Affairs is processing more claims today than at any time in history, veterans are waiting too long to receive the benefits they have earned, creating an unnecessary financial hardship for veterans and their families.
The VA reports 554,105 veterans have been waiting longer than 125 days to have their claim adjudicated. This is unacceptable, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired U.S. Army General who has dedicated his life to military service and taking care of our brave warriors, agrees. While the VA is making progress, we believe there are common sense measures Congress can undertake to bolster the VA's efforts to ensure our veterans are getting the care they need in a more-timely manner.
In response to veterans and veterans' organizations who have told us about the hardships the VA backlog imposes on veterans, we introduced H.R. 4191 to help speed up the process.
We, along with Senator Franken, have introduced bipartisan measures in both the House and Senate that will remove several hurdles to getting claims processed quickly.
Our measure would allow local doctors to conduct disability medical examinations for veterans. This conserves VA resources, cuts back on long wait times at VA hospitals, enables quicker diagnoses of disabilities and eliminates unnecessary trips to the VA for veterans in rural communities.
Specifically, to further encourage the use of private medical evidence, we are amending title 38, United States Code, section 5125 to provide that, when a claimant submits private medical evidence, including a private medical opinion, that is competent, credible, probative, and otherwise adequate for rating purposes, the Secretary shall not request a VA medical examination. This legislative change would require VSRs and RVSRs to document that private medical evidence was inadequate for rating purposes before ordering examinations, which are often unnecessary.
Additionally, the legislation requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to complete two types of reports on the progress of this initiative: a report 180-days after passage of the bill that tracks the bill’s implementation and an annual report that tracks the most common reasons and disabilities for which claims with evidence submitted by non-VA medical professionals were denied by VBA.
Our goal with this legislation is simple: to uphold the promises we've made to our veterans by ending the backlog and getting them the benefits they have earned and deserve. We know there is no silver bullet to eliminating the backlog, and we understand each step along the way requires thoughtfulness, analysis and synchronicity. However, we believe H.R. 4191 to be an integral step along the glide path to success. It is a common sense solution that will aid in adding efficiency to a complicated process in order to better serve our nation’s heroes.
Thank you, Chairman Runyan and Ranking Member Titus, for the opportunity to speak on behalf of this bill.