Thank you Madam Chairman. Good morning, Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Filner. Thank you for convening this joint hearing to hear the legislative agendas of those organizations that serve our nation's military personnel, veterans, survivors and dependents.
I would like to welcome all of our witnesses and the members of your organizations who are here today. The insight you provide is vital to ensuring we provide veterans and their family members with the care and benefits they have earned and, more importantly, deserve.
In considering today's testimony, there are a few areas I believe are important for this committee to consider. One area is the increase in staffing at the VA Central Office and the headquarters of the Veterans Integrated Service Networks -- or VISNs. For example, since fiscal year 2008, the staffing at VA Central Office has grown by close to 40 percent. Similarly, the staff at VISN headquarters has increased by 52 percent between the 2008 and 2011 fiscal years.
We need to ask serious questions about whether this increase in staffing directly benefits our nation's veterans; and whether any of this funding could be put to better use. In this time of record debt and deficits, we need to ensure that VA focus its resources in providing patient care and benefits to veterans and not adding more bureaucracy at headquarters.
Another area that needs to be addressed is the backlog of disability claims, a frequent topic discussed in our committees. 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 the last three years, VA has decided hundreds of thousands less claims than it received and some VA regional offices are making errors in more than 25% of their decisions. So, it must be a priority to ensure that the initiatives VA is pursuing to get this situation under control will actually be effective, so that veterans, their families, and their survivors will receive timely, quality decisions when they seek benefits from VA.
Finally, I want to address another important issue -- ensuring we provide health care to the veterans and their families who were exposed to the contaminated water while living aboard Camp Lejeune. Over several decades, servicemembers and their families bathed in, cooked with, and drank the contaminated water. Unfortunately, some veterans and their families have become seriously ill or have died from devastating illnesses, such as cancer. We need to make sure that Camp Lejeune veterans and their families receive the health care they so urgently need.
In the months ahead, we will continue to work on these and other important issues facing our nation's veterans and their loved ones. I remain committed to working with your organizations and my colleagues in the Senate and the House to improve the lives of veterans, their families, and their survivors.
Thank you again, Madam Chairman. I yield back.