Senator Richard Burr
February 26, 2010
• Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Shinseki, welcome to you and your senior leadership team. And welcome to the representatives of the Veterans’ Service Organizations.
• We are here to review the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
• Each Member of the Committee, and each Member of Congress, will have their own criteria by which to judge this $125 billion request. My own judgment will be guided by three core principles.
• First, we remain a nation at war. We have men and women thousands of miles from home, away from their families, putting themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis.
• They and their families command our highest obligation. We must have a VA health and benefits system that meets their needs, is responsive to their expectations, and appropriately expresses the gratitude of the nation for their tremendous sacrifice.
• Second, we are a country that values the service of all generations of veterans who have worn the nation’s uniform. We must not forget our obligations to them, their families, and their survivors. We must care for their injuries resulting from service, extend a helping hand during tough economic times, and honor and memorialize the memory of our fallen heroes.
• Third, we need to be accountable for what we spend. We have a deficit and debt of staggering proportions. All Americans – and especially veterans – deserve the assurance that every tax dollar going to the VA is spent to improve the lives of veterans.
• With those as my guiding principles, here are my initial thoughts on the President’s budget.
• The budget represents a 10% increase in spending overall and an 8% increase in discretionary spending. Significant investments are proposed to end homelessness, increase mental health treatment access, and care for returning OEF/OIF veterans.
• I’m looking forward to asking you, Mr. Secretary, as to how these investments will translate into improved outcomes for veterans, and I applaud you for making them priorities.
• There are some aspects of this budget, however, that leave me puzzled. Whether it’s throwing more money at a problem like the claims backlog, a strategy that has clearly not worked…or whether it is throwing money at administrative functions that may be nice to have, but may rank low on a priority list …I think that we owe it to the American people to make sure that every dollar we spend translates into improved services for our veterans and their families.
• Let me first talk about the backlog issue. Mr. Secretary, your budget proposes to increase permanent staffing for claims adjudication by roughly 4,000. If you look at the chart I’m putting up, you’ll see that claims staffing has exploded in recent years. Every year we’ve been told that the system needs more staff, but when the resources for staff are provided the productivity goes down. Are veterans and taxpayers getting a good deal?
• Let me talk about a couple of other items that jump out, and I’ll just raise these as questions for everyone to consider:
o If this budget is approved there will be a 38% increase in the “General Administration” account since 2009, nearly $130 million. Now, where is this money going and, in a time of massive deficits and debt, is this responsible? Here are some highlights:
A 2-year increase of 65% for the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs;
A 2-year increase of 97% for the Office of Policy and Planning; and
A 2-year increase of 51% for the Office of the Secretary
o Now, are these requests essential? How will they help improve the lives of veterans and their families?
o How is it that the Office of Inspector General, the office tasked to do the oversight of a $125 billion department is slated for a funding freeze…but these support offices are getting huge bumps?
Just a couple more examples in this budget, Mr. Chairman….How about an initiative to put printers on the desks of all VBA employees, especially when VBA is going paperless? Or the publication of an annual Veterans Law Review containing articles and book reviews?
• Mr. Chairman, these line items may seem like pocket change, but these dollars add up, and they have very real consequences for whether we will be able to meet some core obligations to our veterans. I, for one, believe we must provide more support for our family caregivers of our wounded warriors. It is my hope Congress passes the family caregiver bill as soon as possible. If Congress does, will VA have the money to fund this program under this budget? We also have a moral obligation to provide VA health care to veterans and family members who were exposed to contaminated drinking water during their service at Camp Lejeune. Will we do this for our veterans and their families, or will we fritter these dollars away on printers for every desk and book reviews?
• I will end on this point. If we waste money on bureaucrats and shopping sprees at Staples, we may not have the funds to follow through on the promises we are making. We should not be giving false hope to the family caregivers of severely wounded veterans or the marines and their families who drank toxic water at Camp Lejeune that the VA is going to be there for them. They deserve better than this from us.
• We’ve got to prioritize the money our taxpayers entrust us with, so that veterans and their families will have the benefits and services they need and earned. I’m looking forward to asking questions about these issues.
• Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Table of Contents