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Hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee - Nomination of Dr. Tommy Sowers to be Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs


Location: Washington, DC

Good morning, Madam Chairman. Welcome to you and our colleagues. Also, I'd like to welcome you, Dr. Sowers, and your friends and family. Thank you for being here and for your service to our nation.

As you know, we are here today to consider your qualifications to serve as VA's Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. If confirmed, you would be responsible for an office that has nearly 100 employees and is tasked with a broad range of functions. In carrying out those functions, an overriding challenge would be to ensure that tax dollars are being well spent and are actually helping to improve the lives of veterans, their families, and their survivors.

To start with, this office is responsible for assessing and coordinating the outreach activities that VA carries out agency-wide. Over the years, VA has used many different methods to inform veterans and other stakeholders about VA's benefits, services, and activities. But, until recently, little was known about the costs or outcomes of those outreach efforts. Although VA now tracks how much is spent, there is still work to be done to fully understand which outreach methods work the best and to gauge the overall effectiveness of VA's outreach efforts.

The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs also oversees sports programs and special events for veterans with disabilities, including VA's Paralympic Program. That program is meant to expand the opportunities for veterans with disabilities to participate in adaptive sports, by providing grants to organizations that sponsor these activities around the country. To fulfill that purpose, VA must ensure that as much of that funding as possible is directly benefitting disabled veterans who want to participate in these activities.

Madam Chairman, before I turn it back to you, I want to mention one other role of this office, which is to assist in VA's initiative to reduce the number of homeless veterans. In recent years, there has been a large increase in the funding for homeless programs. But, there are questions about what results are being achieved and whether certain segments of the veteran population, including women veterans, are being well served. Moving forward, VA must ensure that these resources are being used effectively to help struggling veterans reach positive outcomes.

Dr. Sowers, these are just a few areas that would require your attention, if you are confirmed to lead the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. I look forward to discussing how you would carry out these duties and, more importantly, how you would ensure that the efforts of this office are leading to real improvements for veterans, their families, and their survivors.

I thank the Chair.

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