Statement of Ranking Member Richard Burr
May 18, 2011
Good Morning, Madam Chairman, and welcome to Deputy Secretaries Gould and Lynn, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss what steps the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense are taking to help improve the lives of our nation’s wounded warriors and their families as they transition from active duty to veteran status.
I look forward to discussing how effectively these two departments are working together and what more can be done to make this process truly seamless -- in terms of information technology, health care, and benefits.
There has been a long history, going back to 1982, of DOD and VA sharing medical resources. However, only recently have the departments attempted to collaborate on specific care programs for the nation’s most severely wounded. Many of these programs began in response to recommendations from various commissions to address the 2007 media reports of poor conditions at Walter Reed. The idea for developing these “joint” programs was to cut through the bureaucracy and create a better transition for both veterans and their families. It has been 4 years since the issues at Walter Reed came to light, and I cannot help but wonder if what we have done is to just create more bureaucracy?
One area that was implemented at the suggestion of the Dole-Shalala Commission –is the Federal Recovery Coordination Program – or FRCP. As this program was visualized, the government would hire Federal Recovery Coordinators - or FRC’s – to help veterans and their families navigate all of the benefits the servicemembers were entitled to throughout the entire federal government.
Unfortunately, this is a perfect example of an idea that looked great on paper but has not yet lived up to expectations. A recent GAO report on the program shows that there are still problems with the two agencies working together. According to the report, there are problems coordinating the 7 different services available through VA and DOD that support wounded servicemembers. For example, because both VA and DOD have care coordinators there is possibility for overlap in case management resulting in a duplication of efforts.
Another problem is that one case file is not shared by both VA and DoD care coordinators. Because of this, GAO found a situation where a veteran with multiple amputations had one goal set by his FRC and the complete opposite goal set by his DoD Recovery Care Coordinator – or RCC. The FRC was instructing the veteran to transition out of the service and the RCC set a goal for that same veteran to remain on active duty. Surely, this is not the kind of service that Dole-Shalala envisioned.
Another area that has been slow to move forward is integrated electronic health records. In April 2009, the President announced the development of an integrated electronic health record which will follow veterans “from the day they first enlist until the day they are laid to rest.” However, two years later, the departments only recently identified a path forward which includes VA adopting DOD’s electronic health records system. While I am happy that this important venture is moving forward, I am disturbed it took two years to get to this point and wonder when - or if – this project will be completed.
While the departments have worked slowly on IT issues, they may have jumped the gun on the benefits side. Last year, DoD and VA started to roll out worldwide an Integrated Disability Evaluation System -- or IDES. This was supposed to smooth the transition to civilian life, by allowing injured servicemembers to find out what benefits they would get from each agency before leaving the military.
But, there have been a range of challenges, including logistical issues, staffing shortages, inadequate IT solutions, and concerns about the quality of life for servicemembers going through the process. Also, goals set by VA and DoD for customer satisfaction are not being met and some facilities are struggling to meet timeliness goals. Nationwide, it is taking on average 394 days to complete the process – almost 100 days longer than the target– and at Camp Lejeune it is taking on average 512 days--that is almost one year and one half. These delays and the impact they are having on our wounded servicemembers are a serious concern.
Overall, several years after instituting a coordinated effort to ensure we are taking care of our most severely wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers, issues still remain. All of this suggests that we need to take a serious look at whether these programs, as currently structured, are the best way to meet the needs of wounded servicemembers and their families.
Madam Chairman, as we move forward, I look forward to working with you to ensure that these two departments work as a team to see that wounded servicemembers get the care, services, and benefits they earned and need without hassles or delays.
To our witnesses, I would like to thank you for your service to our nation’s veterans and I look forward to your testimony.
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