Ranking Member Richard Burr
July 14, 2010
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to our witnesses. Thank you all for joining us today to discuss the on-going efforts to improve VA’s delivery of benefits to our nation’s veterans, their families, and their survivors.
It’s clear that many of our veterans and their survivors are not well served by the current claims processing system, which has been plagued by backlogs, delays, and inaccurate decisions. As the Government Accountability Office put it (quote): “VA has faced challenges not only in decreasing the time it takes to decide claims, but also with improving . . . accuracy and consistency.” (end quote)
In recent years, Congress has mainly responded to these problems by adding funding for more claims-processing staff, which has more than doubled in the last ten years. But, as staff has increased, individual productivity has dropped, quality has dropped, and the backlog has been increasing. And with even more staff increases requested for fiscal year 2011, VA is expecting the backlog to nearly double and the delays to increase by almost 30 days.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again that staffing alone is not the answer to the chronic problems. We must try new approaches.
As we’ll hear today, VA has a number of initiatives underway to try to find different solutions. I appreciate these efforts and look forward to hearing more about them. For starters, I want to discuss how to determine if these initiatives are successful; when those determinations should be made; and, more importantly, when veterans and their families will start to see improvements in the delivery of their benefits.
Also, in developing a path forward, I think it’s important to rely on the knowledge and experience of individuals who deal with the VA system every day. That’s why in April I held a roundtable style meeting with a number of stakeholders to discuss how they think the system could be improved. They provided a number of constructive suggestions, such as simplifying the disability rating schedule and improving communication with veterans.
I’ve also heard suggestions from service officers in North Carolina, such as focusing additional resources on the front end of the process, so more incoming claims will be accurate and complete. Today, I hope to discuss those and other ideas for bringing timely, quality decisions to our nation’s veterans.
To that end, we should also consider whether there are any common-sense legislative changes that could help streamline this cumbersome system. But, in doing so, we should carefully consider whether legislation will lead to lasting improvements in the delivery of benefits and whether it will have any undue impact on veterans or on the claims processing and appeal system.
Mr. Chairman, finding ways to fix the chronic problems with VA claims processing must be a top priority, so the men and women who have sacrificed for our nation will not face hassles or delays in accessing the benefits they need and deserve.
To do this right, the Committee, VA, veterans’ organizations, and other stakeholders must work together to identify the best approaches for updating and streamlining this system. So, I look forward to a productive discussion today and to working collectively to make this system work better for veterans and their families, in North Carolina and nation-wide.
I thank the Chair.
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