House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith made the following statement at today's joint hearing with the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs titled, Back from the Battlefield: DOD and VA Collaboration to Assist Service Members Returning to Civilian Life:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to welcome Secretary Panetta and Secretary Shinseki. Thank you for coming, I know both of you have been personally engaged on the transition of service members and we appreciate your participation in today's hearing.
"Each year, thousands of service members transition out of uniform and back into their civilian communities. In fiscal year 2011, over one hundred and eighty-six thousand men and women in uniform left active duty, and in this fiscal year, nearly one hundred and twenty-five thousand service members are expected to transition out of the services. The numbers of those transitioning in the near future are only expected to increase as the force structure of the military draws down over the next several years.
"Transition has been a challenge for many of our service members moving on to new careers and opportunities. While Americans across the country continue to face difficult economic circumstances, service members often face additional hurdles when it comes to finding employment. Many find that the skills and experiences they acquired while in uniform do not easily translate into positions in the private sector. Although efforts to improve these challenges have been undertaken, more can be done to assist our service members and their families as they transition back into the civilian world. I would like to hear more about what both departments are doing to address this issue.
"Transitioning back into civilian life can be a stressful experience for any service member, but for those who have mental health issues, such a change can be extremely problematic. For these services members, access to mental health services is vitally important to reducing negative side effects, such as suicide. As service members leave active service, transitioning from the Department of Defense (DoD) to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is essential to ensuring access to mental health services. This can sometimes be a difficult process and I am interested in what efforts both Departments have taken to ensure this process is as seamless as possible.
"Another vital component in the transition of service members, and specifically for the wounded, ill and injured, is the ability to transition their medical records in a complete and timely manner. For the last several decades, both the DoD and the VA have spent millions of dollars and countless hours working toward an interoperable electronic health record system. Both Departments have testified before Congress on their progress, yet more challenges than accomplishments have been noted. The recent announcement that the DoD and VA are moving toward a "single" electronic health record system is notable and highly encouraged, but concerns remain.
"On Monday, the President announced a redesign of the Transition Assistance Program to address the concerns that we have heard from our service members and families. I look forward to hearing more specifics on how the programs will be improved, including what will be part of the 5-day core curriculum, and what services and programs will be available as part of the pre-separation assessment and individual counseling.
"Secretary Panetta and Secretary Shinseki, again, welcome, I look forward to your testimony and hearing more on what efforts are being taken to improve the transition assistance to our service members and their families. I look forward to a frank and open discussion."