Yesterday, Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member on the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee of Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, participated in a Subcommittee hearing regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The lead witness was Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In addition to Secretary Shinseki, witnesses included the Mr. Petzel, Deputy Undersecretary for Health; Ms. Allison Hickey, Deputy Undersecretary for Benefits; Mr. W. Todd Grams, Chief Financial Officer, Office of Management for the Department of Veterans Affairs; Mr. Steve L. Muro, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs; and Stephen Warren, Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology.
At the hearing, Congressman Bishop expressed his concerns with the VA's benefits claims backlog and the proposed VA Integrated Electronic Health Records system. Congressman Bishop questioned Secretary Shinseki about the VA's FY 2014 budget, lack of claims processors, and extended process of creating a usable and transferrable health records system.
Congressman Sanford D. Bishop Jr.'s prepared remarks are as follows:
"Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, we have done a lot to ease the burden of military service, for example, the Congress passed the 9/11 GI bill, the Hiring Heroes Act, and the Caregivers Act, all with strong bipartisan majorities.
However, we are still struggling in one area that can make a world of difference to a Veteran; this area is the claims process. We have a serious problem in this country when there are over 850,000 veterans awaiting compensation claims and over 600,000 that have waited in excess of 125 days, commonly referred to as "backlogged'.
I have heard from many on the reasons for the backlog, the inclusion of Agent Orange, the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the complexity of new wounds both physical and mental of our veterans, and more. But what I want to hear today and what I want to discuss is what is being done to fix it.
I want to talk about results and how this FY 2014 budget is going to achieve those results. How are the initiatives and funding in this budget going to meet the Department's goal to "End the backlog by 2015'?
Because we can talk about increases in spending for VA until we're blue in the face, but if there's no results then we're just wasting time and resources.
And Mr. Chairman, when it comes to wasting resources in this current budget climate I cannot tell you how frustrated and disappointed I am in the recent announcement on the integrated Electronic Health Record program.
Less than a year ago Mr. Secretary you and Secretary Panetta appeared before Congress promising to develop a single, common, joint electronic health record, that would according to your statement then, "Unify the two Departments' electronic health record systems into a common system to ensure that all DOD and VA health facilities have service members' and veterans' health information available throughout their lifetimes.'
I personally believe DOD probably shoulders much more of the blame in this area than the VA and also much more of the wasted cost, but nonetheless I am tired of the promises made to the Members of this Congress on behalf of veterans with no results.
Mr. Secretary, when I talk to veterans their number one issue is always VA claims and the number one issue being worked by my staff in Southwest Georgia is VA claims. The veterans of my district are growing impatient and so am I.
Mr. Chairman, today is a very important hearing and I know I speak for many of our colleagues and Secretary Shinseki when I discuss how frustrated we all are with the situation.
I know this a problem that will not be fixed overnight but my hope today is that we can focus on how we fix this problem together and quickly. Not just for the veterans waiting today, but for future generations of veterans to come.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to share my concerns. I yield back."