DONNELLY JOINS HOUSE IN PASSING HISTORIC FUNDING INCREASE FOR VETERANS' HEALTH CARE
Today, the House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2008 (FY2008) Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs Appropriations bill. With an increase of 4.4 billion dollars over last year's budget, this bill provides enough funding to add 1,000 new claims processors to help reduce the backlog of 400,000 cases.
"It's time to make good on our commitment to our veterans," Donnelly said. "The legislation passed today provides the largest single increase in funding for veterans' health care in the VA's 77-year history. As we continue the appropriations process, I will be working to ensure that America's veterans get what's been promised them in a timely and respectful way."
In a speech on the floor, Congressman Joe Donnelly called on the Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) to report to Congress on why they are not implementing eight key Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations that would reduce the staggering disability claims backlog.
"We have a responsibility to our veterans to make sure the VA is making every effort to reduce the disability claims backlog as quickly as possible," Donnelly said. "The VA should explain to Congress why they have failed to implement eight common sense GAO recommendations that would serve to reduce the disability claims backlog."
The parliamentary rules governing House debate on the FY2008 Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs Appropriations bill would not allow Donnelly to offer an amendment requiring the VA to report to Congress regarding the GAO's recommendations. However, the bill's author and chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Chet Edwards (D-TX), has agreed to try to add Donnelly's requested language to the final version of the bill that will be decided in a conference committee between the House and Senate. Once the final version passes both chambers, it will be sent to the President for his signature.
In the past, the GAO has provided recommendations to the VA "to improve disability claims processing timeliness, accuracy, and consistency." A May 25th letter from the GAO to the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors reiterated eight of these recommendations. The recommendations are below:
: FROM GAO Report "GAO-07-906R" (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07906r.pdf):
"There are currently several open recommendations to VA. To improve disability claims processing timeliness, accuracy, and consistency, we have recommended that VA
Move forward in implementing a systematic quality review program that evaluates and measures the accuracy of the VA unit at the National Personnel Records Center's responses to all types of regional office requests for information from service records;
Assess whether it could use and electronic library of historical military records, to identify veterans whose PTSD claims can be granted on the bases of this information, rather than submitting all research requests to the Joint Services Records Research Center;
Develop a strategy for improving consistency among its health care networks in meeting the criteria for joint and spine exam reports. VA could require that its medical centers use the automated templates for joint and spine exams;
Develop a performance measure for the quality of exam requests that regional offices send to medical centers;
Prepare the following information and work with the relevant appropriations subcommittees on how best to make it available for their use:
o An explanation of the expected impact of specific initiatives and changes in incoming disability claims workload on requested staffing levels;
o Information on disability claims processing productivity, including how VBA plans to improve productivity; and
o An explanation of how disability claims complexity is expected to change and the impact of these changes on productivity and requested staffing levels;
Use VA's annual performance plan to delineate strategies for and progress in periodically updating its Schedule for Rating Disabilities and labor market data used in its disability determination process;
Study and report the effect that a comprehensive consideration of medical treatment and assistive technologies would have on the VA disability programs' eligibility criteria and benefit package. The analysis should estimate the effects on the size, cost, and management of the program and other relevant VA programs; and
Undertake a comprehensive review of its field structure for processing disability compensation and pension claims. This review would address staff deployment, opportunities for consolidating disability compensation and pension claims processing, and human capital and real property issues."