Good morning, Chairman Murray, Chairman Miller, and Ranking Member Filner. Welcome to you, Commander DeNoyer, and to the leaders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars appearing with you at the witness table. I'd also like to welcome the members of VFW and its Auxiliaries who have joined us, particularly those who traveled here from North Carolina. Thank you all for your service and thank you for being here today.
Each year, the Veterans' Affairs Committees are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear from VFW about how well veterans are being served by the benefits and services provided by a grateful nation. Learning from those with first-hand experiences about any shortfalls or inefficiencies helps focus our efforts, as we conduct oversight of veterans' programs, consider legislation, and work to ensure that funding levels are appropriate.
In view of that feedback, I want to briefly highlight a few areas that I think should be among our priorities. One is the disability claims backlog. In recent years, Congress has provided funding to allow VA to hire thousands of additional claims processors and to develop new technologies. But, veterans still face large backlogs, long delays, and frequent errors when trying to access disability benefits.
In fact, VA decided hundreds of thousands less claims than it received over the past three years and some VA regional offices are making errors in more than 25% of their decisions. So, we must ensure that VA's plan for getting this situation under control is realistic and will actually result in veterans receiving timely, quality decisions when they seek benefits from VA.
Another area we should examine is the continued increases in staffing at the VA Central Office and at the headquarters of the Veterans Integrated Service Networks -- or VISNs. I think we need to ask serious questions about whether these increases in staff are directly benefitting veterans and whether any of this funding could be put to better use. Particularly now, with pressure on budgets government-wide, VA's resources must be focused on patient care and the delivery of benefits, not on more layers of bureaucracy.
Madam Chairman, before I turn it back over to you, I want to address another important issue -- efforts to provide health care for veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. For decades, servicemembers and their families drank, bathed in, and cooked with that water, unaware that it contained dangerous chemicals. Unfortunately, some of them have become seriously ill or have died from devastating conditions, like rare cancers.
While studies are underway to better understand the effects of the contaminants, we should make sure these veterans and their families can get the treatment they may need, to combat any adverse effects from the toxins. I hope we will soon be able to do just that and appreciate VFW's support for these efforts.
Commander, thank you again for being here and for sharing VFW's priorities with us. I look forward to continuing to work with your organization and my colleagues on these Committees to improve the lives of veterans, their families, and their survivors.
I thank the Chair.