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Hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of House Committee on Veterans' Affairs - The State of VA Disability Ratings in the 21st Century

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Good morning and welcome everyone. This oversight hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will now come to order.

We are here today to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs' current framework for rating Veterans' injuries, illnesses, and disabilities resulting from service in our military.

As I mentioned during my opening remarks of our first hearing last year, my hope is that this meeting of minds sets a precedent and tone for a broader promise we have made to our Veteran population for the remainder of this 112th session.

And that is to ensure the entire claims process, the delivery of earned benefits, and veterans medical services, is transformed into a fully efficient and modernized system equipped with the best tools available to aid our Veteran population in the 21st century.

Several years ago, a Commission was established on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors led by former Senator Bob Dole and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. The purpose of this commission was to examine the health care services provided by the VA and the Department of Defense to members of the military and returning veterans.

Around the same time, Congress created the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission, established under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004. The commission was created by Congress out of many of the same concerns we still hold today, including the timeliness of processing disabled veterans' claims for benefits.

This commission conducted a 2 year, in depth analysis of benefits and services available to veterans, and the processes and procedures used to determine eligibility. Their conclusions were published in a comprehensive report titled "Honoring the Call to Duty: Veterans' Disability Benefits in the 21st Century."

The end result of these reports were several recommendations, including the goal of updating and simplifying the disability determination and compensation system on a more frequent basis.

Although select portions of the ratings system have been updated throughout the last 20 years, these reports refer to the rating schedule as "outdated," noting that it has not been comprehensively revised since the conclusion of World War II.

They recommend the Rating Schedule be updated at recurrent and relative intervals, due to advances in medical and rehabilitative care, and a greater appreciation and understanding of certain disabilities, such as PTSD. The more recent updates to diagnostic criteria for newer types of injuries, such as TBI, were a step in the right direction.

However, I believe it is our duty to be vigilant in pressing for continued revision reflecting the continued advances and understanding in medical care and treatment. In addition, I am in agreement with their conclusion that a more candid emphasis on Veteran quality of life should be taken into account in an updated ratings schedule.

Therefore, we are here today to honor our duty to the Nation's Veterans. Just as we would not issue World War II era equipment and weapons to our current soldiers and Marines and expect them to be successful of the modern battlefield; we should not be satisfied with a World War II era system for evaluating and rating their disabilities as a result of their service and sacrifice to this Nation.

I want to thank the VA, the DOD, the present VSOs, and General Scott for their valuable input as we work together to find important solutions.

I welcome today's witnesses to continue this ongoing discussion and offer their own specific recommendations on how to improve the current system of rating our Veterans' disabilities.

I would now call on the Ranking Member for his opening statement.

***

The Chair now calls Panel One. At this time I welcome our first witnesses. We will be hearing first from Mr. Jeff Hall, the assistant national legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans. Next we will hear from Mr. Frank Logalbo, the national service director of benefit services for the Wounded Warrior Project. Our final witness on this panel will be Mr. Theodore Jarvi, a past president of the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates.

Your complete written statements will be entered into the hearing record.

***

Gentlemen, on behalf of the Subcommittee, I thank you for your testimony. We look forward to continuing to work with you on these important matters. You are now excused.

At this time I welcome Mr. Tom Murphy, director of compensation service for the Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Next we will hear from Mr. John Campbell, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Wounded Warrior Care & Transition Policy, U.S. Department of Defense. He is accompanied by Dr. Jack Smith, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clinical and Program Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs

We appreciate each of your attendance today. Your complete written statements will be entered into the hearing record.

Mr. Murphy, you are now recognized for five minutes.

***

Gentlemen, on behalf of the Subcommittee, I thank each of you for your testimony. We welcome working closely with you in addressing these important issues which have an enormous impact on America's Veterans.

You are now excused.

I now invite General James Terry Scott to the witness table. General Scott is the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation. Welcome General Scott; your complete written statements will now be entered into the hearing record.

You are now recognized for five minutes.

***

General Scott, on behalf of the Subcommittee, I thank you for your testimony. We all appreciate your hard work on behalf of our nation's veterans and your attendance here today.

You are now excused.

I want to repeat my desire from this Subcommittee's first hearing of last year. And that is to work with Members on both sides of the aisle to ensure America's veterans receive the benefits that they have earned in a timely and accurate manner. I believe assessing and, where necessary, updating the present state of the disability rating schedule is another crucial step in this endeavor.

I ask unanimous consent that all members have five legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material. Hearing no objection so ordered.

I thank the members for their attendance today.

This hearing is now adjourned.


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