Good morning, Chairman Murray. Welcome to you and to our witnesses. Thank you for calling this hearing to discuss the Integrated Disability Evaluation System -- or IDES.
This joint VA and Department of Defense process was meant to help ease the transition to civilian life for injured or ill servicemembers, by allowing them to find out before they leave the military what benefits they will receive from both agencies. But, as we'll hear today, there have been consistent performance challenges with this new system.
In fact, at Committee hearings last May, we heard about inadequate IT solutions, staffing shortages, and other problems that were leading to delays and frustrations for many servicemembers. At that time, it was taking about 400 days to go through the process -- 100 days longer than the target set by the agencies. Also, serious concerns were raised about the personal toll those delays may be having on many servicemembers and about the quality of their lives during this process.
We heard then about a number of efforts that were underway to improve IDES. But -- one year later -- we'll hear about some of those same problems, and it's still taking nearly 400 days for injured and ill servicemembers to transition to civilian life. For members of the Guard and Reserves, it can take even longer -- as much as 650 days. That's a long time for servicemembers to be held in limbo -- not knowing whether their military careers are over and, if so, what benefits and services they would receive.
Also, we continue to hear from servicemembers who are frustrated that they cannot plan for civilian life -- like accepting a job or enrolling in school -- because they don't know when they will leave the military. What's worse is the number of servicemembers going through this process who have taken their own lives, succumb to drugs, or suffered other unfortunate outcomes.
Given all of this, it's understandable that stakeholders have called this process convoluted, contentious, and slow. Even the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff recently said this about it (quote):
The biggest area that we need help is the Disability Evaluation System. . . . It's fundamentally flawed. It causes an adversarial relationship with our medical professionals. It's long. It's disjointed. . . .
The bottom line is that many servicemembers and their families are not being well served by this process. So, we need to look at what should be done in the short term to bring relief to the 27,000 military personnel going through IDES now. But, we also need to seriously look at whether this system -- as currently structured -- will ever provide servicemembers with the high level of service they deserve.
Madam Chairman, we should not be content with a cumbersome process that leaves injured and ill servicemembers in a state of uncertainty for more than a year, when they want and need to move on with their lives. The men and women who have been harmed while serving our nation deserve better. So, I hope we can work collectively to find solutions that will cut through the bureaucracy and, more importantly, will truly help ease their transition to civilian life.
I again thank the witnesses for being here, and I thank the Chair.