Opening Statement of
Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary-designate of Veterans Affairs
Before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
January 14, 2009
Chairman Akaka, Senator Burr, Distinguished Members of the Committee on Veterans
Affairs: Thank you for scheduling this hearing so expeditiously. I am honored to be
before you today seeking your endorsement to become the Secretary of Veterans
Affairs. Over the last several weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet with many of
you individually and deeply appreciate the committee's concern for and unwavering
support for our Veterans and for the mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I've listened carefully to your concerns and advice, and have benefited from your
I deeply appreciate the confidence of President-elect Obama in this nomination and am
fully committed to fulfilling his charge to me -- that is, transform the Department of
Veterans Affairs into a 21st Century Organization. I am acutely aware that
transformation is a challenging task -- particularly in an organization as complex and as
steeped in tradition as is the Department of Veterans Affairs. We faced similar
challenges nearly 10 years ago in beginning the transformation of the United States
Army. Leadership, commitment and teamwork enable the challenges of transformation
to become opportunities to innovate and better serve our Veterans. With your support, I
am confident we will succeed.
If confirmed, I will quickly finalize and articulate a concise strategy for pursuing a
transformed Department of Veterans Affairs, reflecting the vision of President-elect
Obama. I have much to learn about the organization and look forward to gaining
valuable input and insights from its civilian workforce as well as from the Veterans
Service Organizations. However, three fundamental attributes mark the starting point
for framing a 21st Century Organization: people-centric, results-driven, forward-looking.
First, Veterans will be the centerpiece of our organization - our client, as we
design, implement, and sustain programs. Our support to veterans and their
enrolled family members must go beyond that of servicing customers to a
relationship based on trust and positive results over a lifetime. Through their
service in uniform, Veterans have sacrificed greatly, investing of themselves in
the security, safety, and well-being of our Nation. They are clients, whom we
represent and whose best interests are our sole reason for existence. It is our
charge to address their changing needs over time and across the full range of
support that our Government has committed to provide to them. Equally
essential, the Department's workforce will be leaders and standard-setters in
their fields. From delivering cutting-edge medical treatment to answering the
most basic inquiries, we will grow and retain a skilled, motivated, and clientoriented
workforce. Training and development, communications and
teambuilding, and continuous learning will be key components of our workforce
Second, at the end of each day, our true measure of success is the timeliness
and excellence of services and support provided to Veterans. Thus, we will
continuously strive to set and meet sound performance benchmarks in these
areas. Workforce leaders and providers alike will know the standards and
perform to them. Our processes will remain accessible, responsive, and
transparent to ensure that the many needs of a diverse Veterans population are
met. An integral part of measuring success includes assessing costeffectiveness.
As stewards of taxpayer funds, this issue will be central to our
quality and management processes.
Third, to optimize our opportunities for delivering best services with available
resources, we must continually challenge ourselves to look for ways to do things
smarter and more effectively. We will aggressively leverage the world's best
practices, knowledge, and technology, which are providing ever-increasing
capabilities in health care, information management, service delivery, and other
areas. We already know that a portion of today's youth will be tomorrow's
servicemen and women, and the next day's Veterans. Thus, we will seek to
identify and embed transformational initiatives as part of our culture as we care
for Veterans, present and future.
While developing a strategy for transforming the VA into a 21st Century Organization,
we will address immediately a set of complex, near-term challenges that face us, as
1. Successfully implement the New GI Bill (Post 9/11 Veterans' Educational
2. Streamline the disability claims system, increase quality, timeliness and
consistency of claims processing, and update the Disability Rating Schedule,
while maintaining veterans' rights.
3. Ensure adequate resources and access points to meet the health care needs of
all enrolled Veterans, as well as those OEF/OIF Veterans and Priority Group 8
Veterans, who will be joining the system.
4. Leverage the power of Information Technology to accelerate and modernize the
delivery of benefits and services.
If confirmed, I will focus on these issues and the development of a credible and
adequate 2010 budget request during my first 90 days in office. The overriding
challenge, which I will begin to address on my first day in office, will be to make the
Department of Veterans Affairs a 21st Century Organization focused on the Nation's
Veterans as its clients.
I thank this committee for its long history of unwavering commitment to Veterans. If
confirmed, I look forward to working closely with you in fulfilling that commitment