Statement of Ranking Member Richard Burr
May 25, 2011
Good morning, Madam Chairman, and welcome to our witnesses. Before I continue, I would like to ask DOD how much time they need to be able to submit testimony to our Committee on time. I ask because they were sent the invitation letter to testify on May 11th and with less than 24 hours before this hearing we had still not received their testimony. Madam Chairman, I don’t know where the hang up is, but I hope we can send a message that these delays need to stop.
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss collaboration issues with VA and DOD and hear, firsthand, from veterans about their personal experiences moving from active duty to veteran status. Stories from the field, like those we’ll hear about on our first panel, are invaluable in getting a true assessment of what is working well and what is not. Each veteran testifying today has had a different experience and unfortunately they are not all positive, which echoes concerns brought up in last week’s hearing.
For instance, we’ll hear about the bureaucratic hassles, delays, and confusion Specialist Bohn faced after he was severely injured in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive at his post near the Pakistan border. His story is a real example of the lack of communication between the two departments.
Another veteran witness, Lt. Col. Lorraine, is not only a veteran himself but a military spouse and the founding Director of the Special Operations Command Care Coalition. So, his personal experience touches the issue of collaboration between VA and DOD from all sides – a veteran transitioning to VA, a military spouse helping his wife transition, and the director of a DOD wounded warrior program.
While it is critical to hear these personal stories from our nation’s veterans, it is just as important to continue our dialogue with the agencies tasked with ensuring a seamless transition for servicemembers from active duty to veteran status.
One area VA and DOD have worked on together is improving mental health care for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. In October 2010, recognizing that the two agencies serve the same individuals at different stages of their lives, VA and DOD adopted a cohesive mental health plan. Although it’s hard to say after only 7 months whether this will improve services, I look forward to hearing about how this coordinated effort to improve quality, access, and effectiveness helps improve the lives of our nation’s wounded warriors and their families.
Another area that I noted in my opening statement last week needs attention is the Federal Recovery Coordination Program. This program was envisioned to help veterans and their families access all federal benefits available to them, not simply those benefits available through VA. I still believe this is an example of an idea that looked great on paper but has yet to live up to its potential and look forward to exploring ideas to help this program live up to expectations.
On the benefits side, the worldwide rollout of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System has clearly gotten off to a rocky start. As Deputy Secretary Lynn testified last week, the goal is for a veteran to complete the IDES process within 295 days, but nationwide it is taking on average 394 days and in some cases – such as at Camp Lejeune - much longer than that. Also, it will take one to two years before the agencies will actually be able to meet this goal. Particularly considering the number of suicides, court-martials, and other unfortunate outcomes among IDES participants, we need to take a serious look at what personal toll the delays and uncertainties of the IDES process are taking on wounded servicemembers.
It has been four years since the scandal surrounding Walter Reed brought this lack of cooperation to light, and gauging by the stories of our first panel and what was learned from last week’s testimony, the bureaucracy we tried to cut through may have become worse. I look forward to working with you, Madam Chairman, on a truly seamless transition for our nation’s wounded warriors.
To our veterans testifying today and to the witnesses from the agencies, I would like to thank you for your service to our nation.
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