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tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  December 4, 2013 10:00pm-12:01am EST

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>> we announced these changes than the secretary of defense, general dempsey said it will result in better aligning our structures and resources with dod strategic interests and priorities. and earlier this year we directed the management review in that review developed options to help the dod plan for a range of future budget scenarios, including the persistence of sequester lover untracked level cuts. and as all of you know, these threats, and less changed, will represent a 500 billion-dollar reduction over the next 10 years, and that is in addition with a $480 billion spending cut that the dod has are implemented. included in the strategic choice of management review is a comprehensive look that all savings that could be achieved by reducing overhead throughout the department and streamlining
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organizations, including osd and the joint staff. as you may recall, i announced this summer that dod would reduce headquarters operating budgets for 20 represent over the next five years and these reductions are only a first step in the effort of dod to realign the spending to meet new fiscal realities and strategic priorities. difficult but necessary choices remain ahead and choices on compensation reform and force structure, acquisition, and other major parts of dod. these choices will be much more difficult if congress fails to halt sequestration and fund the president's budget request. congress must be a full partner in our efforts to responsibly bring down spending and to implement institutional reforms and i worked for this effort.
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i announced and i made clear that they would begin in the office of the secretary of defense. subsequently, i asked air force secretary mike donnelly based on the management review the lead review of osd that would determine how to implement these cuts and consider opportunities for organizational change and streamlining. secretary donnelly has completed his work. we are moving ahead to implement a number of recommendations and changes in line with this work and the results of the strategic management. specifically today, i'm directing each of my principal staff assistants to begin implementing their plans to meet the 20% budget reductions by fiscal year 2019. in much of the savings will be achieved through contractor reductions, although there will be reductions and civilian personnel. ultimately, other headquarter elements will be implementing
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some of these reductions, and we will detailer plans to achieve these savings with the budget submission of next year. and the osd reductions are comprehensive and this includes many aspects of the organization and personnel and resources. we recognize that the dollar savings generated by the osd reductions, at least a billion dollars over the next five years is a small percentage of the sequester level cuts underscoring the challenges it faces in absorbing these very large sequester level reductions. still, every dollar that we save by reducing the size of our headquarters and back office operations and this includes the war fighting capabilities. in this includes streamlining it, making it more agile process.
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in this includes overlapping functions and strengthening the departmentwide managing functions. with these objectives in mind, the secretaries review took a close look at the organizational chart and reform proposals. dan directing a series of changes that will reshape the osd and i believe better prepare us for our future fiscal challenges and evolving strategic environment. first, and under defense policy, based on an internal review led by the current undersecretary of defense, jim miller. this restructuring will better balance the workload across the policy with the secretary of defense has sustained our emphasis on the asia pacific region in space and cybercapabilities and better integrating emerging threats of homeland defense efforts and strengthening our security cooperation efforts while eliminating some senior
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executive positions, specifically it eliminates the deputy secretary undersecretary position in the chief of staff phases out this on business and stability operations and realigns the portfolios of the five assistant secretaries. the plan also eliminates for for physicians for their support structures and realignment of the policies staffed structure. and second, that the cmo position and this includes the management. ..
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the acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness rebalance resources
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across the office of three assistant secretaries of defense on forest management in force readiness and military health care compensation and retirement reform. i'm directing the undersecretary of defense for intelligence to move forward with planning on how its mission and focus should evolve after the drawdown of the post-9/11 complex including staffing levels organizations and programs. eliminating the five deputy secretaries of defense who are not presidentially appointed for fulfilling direction for congress. to further improve the administration i am directing additional longer-term follow up actions to include refining osd budget categories, improving oversight of contractors supporf osd workload and directing a
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biannual review of osd to establish a regular assessment of the offices requirement. once fully implemented these actions will provide for improved and sustained oversight of osd structure resources. all these decisions will not only result in a smaller and flatter osd is but one that i believe is a complex 21st century challenges that we face as a department and as a nation. in this constrained budget environment we'll continue to look for ways to in improve efficiency and maximize combat power. and how best to ensure this department is able to clear its deficient. most of the reductions in osd staff i've announced today will occur through process of natural attrition in order to minimize the impact of our workforce.
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if the department is forced to take steep sequestration cuts on the order of $500 billion over the next 10 years we may need to implement additional reductions. as i've i have said before sequestration is a responsible and imposes unnecessary risk to our military's ability to accomplish its mission and our readiness. congress should roll back sequestration and fully fund the presidents but it requests. it provides the department at the time, the flexibility and the certainty needed to strategically transition our military to impose war posture. one final point. bureaucracies are often derided but the reality is an organization of dod's size complexity and global reach will always require sophisticated headquarters structures that provide effective oversight and management of our half a trillion dollar enterprise. the men and women who work at the pentagon and other
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headquarters elements whether civilian military or contractors are dedicated individuals who deserve respect and appreciation. even as we realized our headquarters organizations we will focus new energy and on retaining the world-class professionals who we depend on every day to fulfill our mission and keep this script -- country safe. my expectation is the changes we make will empower people by reducing layers of bureaucracy and making our organization more adaptable, accountable and agile. i know this is minute trying period for all dod personnel and their families in the wake of sequestration, furloughs and the government shutdown. through it all our workforce has remained focused and dedicated and i know that they will remain just as focused as we were to put our organization on a strong path for the future. thank you. general dempsey. >> thank you mr. secretary.
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i would like to highlight what the secretary said. there are some things we would have done whether or not we were faced with a budget control act in this thing called sequestration. those are the size of our headquarters so just as he has directed the office of the secretary of defense to make changes so too will the joint staff combatant commanders and the service chiefs and the three headquarters throughout the world. the second is paid compensation and health care. we have said for sometime we need need to adjust our slow the rate of growth in those activities in order to ensure that the all-volunteer force remain sustainable as well as allows us to balance the force across modernization training readiness and manpower. third excess infrastructure, we have it and we need to begin to
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consolidate infrastructure, close certain parts of our infrastructure and forth of course this acquisition reform where the goal is to make ourselves, to get out of this pattern where things are acquired to slowly and too expensively. we will need help across virtually each one of these areas. it's worth noting that last week we entered our 13th year of combat in afghanistan while simultaneously delivering much-needed relief supplies in typhoon haiyan and maintaining a steady state of presence in the gulf and the eastern mediterranean and in the pacific as a backstop to our diplomatic endeavors as a nation. so as we consider how to maintain our military strength
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we must always remember a real strategic advantage and that is the men and women who serve in uniform. the purpose of all of the reform efforts that we have been describing here is aimed at we preserve and enhance the leadership training and equipping of our forces because in so doing and only in so doing will we be sure to keep our nation immune from coercion. thank you very much. >> thanks. a question for both of you on china. with regard to this new air defense dedication zone. i wonder whether you have top-tier chinese comport about this and you think we should roll it back in and if i can ask both of you more broadly what do you see is the big picture significance of this? or the chinese responding to the u.s. talking about anything specific or how do you rate this
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move? >> as to your first question i have not spoken to my attorneys but i have spoken to our allies about the chinese -- [inaudible] as to your question and the bigger picture what may be behind this. first, i don't know. but i would focus on one particular area here that general dempsey and the chiefs have put a lot of effort into and was very much the centerpiece of the conversation between president obama and president she a few months ago and that is developing a strong military-to-military relationship with the united states. we have been working both sides actually and you might recall my counterpart the chinese defense
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minister chang was here and i hosted him here. and i have seen him 200 times in the asian-pacific and some were with me during those occasions. we are working toward a stronger relationship to build some mechanisms to address some of these tension issues which probably are not going to get any less complicated in the east end the south china sea. it's important or china, japan and south korea and all the nations in this area to stay calm and responsible. these are combustible issues. that has been a role that we have tried to play in the united states and the influence that we have and that area with our
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allies. this is the time when we need to carefully, all of us work through some of these differences and that's the decision that we have taken. it is important that in an international community that is getting more and more crowded, we all understand and have common interest in the preservation and open free sea lanes and what's in the interest of our economies and our security and we are going to have to work on mechanisms that help accommodate that, rules of conduct and other areas. that is an area where we continue to play a role. >> i think we made it pretty clear what our position is in the united states on this and it's not that the aid itself is new.
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or unique. the biggest concern that we have is how it was done so unilaterally and so immediately without any consultation or international consultation. that is not a wise course of action to take for any country. >> i have actually reached out to the schedulers to connect me with my counterpart and i expect it will occur following the vice presidents visit. i think it's worth noting we are not talking about sovereign space. we are talking about international air space adjacent to sovereign airspace and as you know the international norm i think as you know the international norm is you would only rip cord if you intended to injure the sovereign airspace of the country. it wasn't the declaration that
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actually was destabilizing. it was their assertion that it would cause all aircraft entering to report regardless of whether they were intending to enter into the sovereign airspace of china. >> i have a question. mr. secretary and chairman dempsey you have those expressed concerns in this past about the rise of the seamus groups in syria where we see now militants aligned with al qaeda in and some of them with saudi arabia are capable of -- my question is how do you see a way out of this crisis and do you agree with what ambassador crocker said today that the united states has to start with president assad? >> first, it's been the position of the united states that a political settlement is the
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appropriate and responsible way out of this and as you know there is a geneva ii conference scheduled now in late january that will continue to pursue that path and that effort. also as you all are well aware of the chemical weapons peace of this issue is on track. that is not insignificant. the united states has been working closely with our international partners on the opcw. we have as you know offered technical support, technology to assist in the destruction of the precursors and the chemical weapons themselves so that is another dimension of this.
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i think that we continue and will continue and must continue to find a diplomatic solution to this huge humanitarian catastrophe. it's dangerous. if presents new dimensions to an already unstable middle east on all of syria's border so i think we are taking the responsible approach in pursuing the right actions. the if i could at general my orders from the president had not changed and that is to say we are maintaining our presence and our readiness, our deterrence and their capabilities at heightened levels in support of the other efforts that the secretary just mentioned. secondly you asked how do we see our way through this. i think we see our way through
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this by recognizing this is a regional issue. this is not an individual country or an individual group issue. it's a network of challenges and i think seeing it regionally and seeing how each group some of which aspired to global influence and some of which aspired to regional influence and local influence in each of those requires a different approach because they present a different threat. seeing it as a region and working through our partners is clearly the path that will allow us to solve this complex issue whether it runs from as i've said before to damascus to baghdad or from afghanistan down into northern africa. the last thing as i will leave the diplomacy to the diplomats. >> mr. secretary "the wall street journal" reported that the administration is now reaching out to some of the islamist groups inside syria.
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is this an acknowledgment that al qaeda is getting the upper hand there and there is concern that if you don't reach out to these groups you won't have any influence in syria? can you comment on that both have you actually? >> that is not my area that i deal with, the diplomatic track every day on this. i would just say that if in fact he there's going to be a diplomatic resolution, if that is the responsible approach that we are taking and the january geneva ii meeting is on track to occur, if this is all going to come to some kind of a diplomatic solution, then all parties involved are going to have to be represented some way. i will leave that up to secretary kerry in debate administration to sort that out
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but i think if that is the goal that is the objective to try to contain this and general dempsey's comments about a regional issue is exactly right. then, this can be achieved by just narrow strips of interest and again i will leave that up to secretary kerry. >> if i could ad, i think it's worth knowing whether these groups have any intent whatsoever to be moderate and inclusive our weather they are from the start intending to be radical and an exclusive. i think finding that out however we do so is worth the effort. >> is there a lot of influence there? >> i've said for some time, there are more groups that are in themselves as al qaeda and whether they actually lend themselves with al qaeda's
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global terrorist ideology is another issue. we are still learning about some of these groups. >> this is very complicated as you all know, just sorting out who's interests are whose interest in who represents who. it takes some time to do this and i think the path we are on is the responsible one. >> in the new policy organization how will you ensure western hemisphere security affairs for the attention needed and also in qvr there is a perception in washington that the qvr hasn't accomplished that much. thus far can you offer any new clear evidence to the contrary? >> i don't know whose observations those are because i haven't seen qdr results yet exist they are not in yet. so i suspect there is great speculation that may come out of that but the results of the qdr
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are not in yet and i have not seen a draft of it. if someone else has, i doubt it. the qdr is an important mechanism that is you know it's put together by very knowledgeable experienced individuals that help guide through recommendations the decision-makers, the policymakers on what our interests are and how we achieve those interests. we look forward and i know the president doesn't i do and secretary kerry ambassador rice in particular to looking at that it's also an effort and an enterprise right now but comes at a very important time which i note in remarks comes at a budget time and is sequestration time and it comes at a re-organization restructured and
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institutional reform time so it will be helpful and i don't have much to say beyond that because we have not seen the report yet. >> could i comment on that actually? one of the things that is coming out of the qdr that again to be eliminated by some strategic seminars that we rant about a year ago is that the homeland is no longer a sanctuary. if we are engaged in a conflict virtually anywhere on the globe there's likely to be some effect in the homeland whether it's potentially ballistic missiles or cyber, something could potential effect the homeland in a way that it hasn't before. so the homeland is actually achieving much greater prominence in our discussions of their future strategy than at
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any time in my four years, as it should. as to the qdr i would like to first i'd out how difficult is doing a qdr in this environment of budget uncertainty because any strategy worth anything has to balance ends, ways & means, the the objective and the resources available so so what you're you are saying is we are actually having to manage to look at through some alternative futures. that may be what you were hearing reflected that we will eventually land on alternative futures. >> you will not have the sole homeland defense guide. >> we are actually up graded, yes. i spend two hours yesterday with general jacoby going through and going through some of his new planning with general dempsey
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has spent a lot of time on with northcom for the homeland and and it's critically important and it will continue to be critically important justice to general dempsey said. we are going to give to that office as we streamline the process so the secretary of defense has more access, more direct access as it works to the policy people so whoever the secretary of defense is two or three others in between so that was very much part of the focus on that particular issue when we made these decisions and when the report came back. >> margaret redmond with cbs. on afghanistan secretary kerry is suggesting the security agreement hanging in the balance
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that is actually your counterpart, the defense in afghanistan you who might have the authority to finalize. i'm wondering if that is the avenue u are pursuing and general, if you could comment, given the uncertainty here and all the options you are planning. they now include in fact the zero option for qdr unscheduled? >> i have not talked to secretary kerry about those comments. i saw the comments. i would answer the question this way. secretary kerry and president karzai reached an agreement, which we, the president and the national security council signed off on. that agreement was the texts presented to loya jirga which president karzai empanelled. the loya jirga strongly endorsed
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that texts, that agreement and strongly recommended to president karzai to sign it. every public official we have heard from in afghanistan has strongly supported the signing of that agreement. now, the issue of who has the authority to speak for this offering nation of afghanistan, i suppose the lawyers can figure that out. but we would be interested in certainly a secretary of defense is whatever document is agreed to and as you know it has to be the parliament for ratification and if it's ratified at the parliament than whether it's the then the minister of defense or the president, someone who has the authority to sign on behalf
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of afghanistan. i suspect that would fulfill the kind of commitment we need, but i don't want to fear too much further into the legal territory until i have a further understanding of what exact he the authority sorry. >> yes, sir trade thank you. from our perspective as you look at the psa what we need to account for just a freedom of movement for military personnel. you have to be able to accomplish the train advise-and-assist task. secondly, the legal protections for those who serve against an afghan legal system that is us described as nascent and will take some time to mature and finally force protection. as long as the document is considered legally binding but both parties and credible internationally than they think it will be a matter of who they they -- but on your point of options we
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have planned options that allow us to continue to engage regionally and then the other excursions where we might move closer and closer to becoming somewhat institutional-based and kabul centric. we have all those options. i have not been told to plan for a zero action but clearly i understand that it is a possibility given the current impasse. >> i will come back. tony. >> you talked about sequestration several times. in early december our budget has to be put together at some point by the end of the month. how likely is it now that the military services will have to adopt the more draconian alternate budgets that portend major cuts or are you expecting a congressional rescue over the next couple of weeks? >> i don't expect any kind of
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rescue. that is why we underwent a very thorough strategic review process last spring. to look at alternatives as you note, that we may have to face, full sequestration played out. the president budget. we have not seen the president watch it yet. we are working with omb on this and as you well know omb gives all departments those numbers. but, what the strategic review is about was planning for all those alternatives in the event event -- we knew we were going to have to pick one of them are somewhere in between and as we have gone forward into institutional reform with qdr informing us and
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the president strategic strategies that he will evolve as he does every year and all the pieces that go into our strategies protecting our country with the resources we have and matching those resources. and the planning. as to do we expect rescues, i know there are conversations that have been going on which i understand have been optimistic about maybe the congress reaching an agreement next week. you know all about those, or before christmas. i don't know. everything is still rather uncertain and that is what has been the most difficult part of all of this for the department of defense. the uncertainty as you know is we don't have a budget and where living with continuing resolutions on january 5 team so
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it's still uncertain what happens and will we continue that with a three month budget deal? we have to plan for all possibilities and this will get to an intersection where we will have to make some decisions. it gives us a number. if something happens with the congress where there is a two year agreement this lies back some of that sequestration. i know those are some of the conversations going on, but i would hope that the congress would take some action before they go home for christmas and not let us continue to dangle out there. we can see for the first time in 51 years of the congress doesn't pass an nda a.. that further complements --
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complicates what we are trying to do here. >> if the alternate palms are adopted what are the implications for modernization programs and for the asia-pacific pivot? will they be cut back severely with modernization? >> not initially because what we have said is we have to make sure our forces are ready to deploy. it's what sets behind it. that is beginning to a road. the way i look at full sequestration and i have said this is for three or four years it creates a huge readiness problem because you can't shed or structure close infrastructure reduce weapon systems. the only place you can go to get the money is in readiness training.
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because of the depth of the cut so to use a basketball analogy if i may we still have 12 men on the team but only eight of them are trained to the level we would like them to be trained to in order to be competitive. we only have eight players. we don't have 12. >> on an optimist and question. the u.s. has been urging president karzai two-sided by the end of year but what is the actual no turning back time that you need assuming the u.s. has to withdraw all troops by 2014. what's the actual not time you would need to look just at the get back down. what is your turning back timeline? >> we are not the limiting factor.
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we wouldn't be to level -- first of all nothing is irreversible but we wouldn't be at the level where it would begin to affect the actions until early summer. they have a different set of requirements to make their decisions so we will see an erosion of the coalition and by the way the other thing we will see is an erosion of confidence by the afghan security forces as they began to be anxious literally about whether we will be there to support. it really needs to be done now mostly because what is hanging in the balance in afghanistan is confidence. the afghan security forces are very capable but they are not confident. >> the situation is deteriorating quickly and like many in the fight against --
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with united states for technical assistance and support? >> your question is will we continue? >> no, will you give to the french military assistance in africa due to what's happening at this moment in the republic of africa? will you do that now? >> well we have been helping our allies in africa, particularly specifically the french in their efforts and will continue that relationship. >> look, we have been very supportive of the french efforts in mali up until now. we are in contact with their french counterparts. they have not made a formal request from us for additional assistance but it's close partners bilateral but through nato we will do whatever we can
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within our means and capabilities. >> are redone? okay. treasury secretary jack lew will give an update on the implementation of the dodd-frank regulations law. >> from age eight betty ford knew she wanted to do something with -- she put on skits and plays and that led to bennington vermont where she studied at the school of dance. these are some of her notecards,
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her spiral notebooks where she kept notes. this is her organizer. hearing this period. she carried this with her to vermont, back to grand rapids, off to new york where she studied with martha graham and work for the powers modeling agency and then back to grand rapids again. and in it you will find a whole host of things that you would find just about any organizer. there are brochures on dance costumes. one of her sketches of the costume for one of the dance routines that she wanted to put on. here are again the choreography notes that she made for different dance routine so there's a whole wealth of material in here that talks about her love for dance and how deeply she was involved in it,, especially in her early years.
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wednesday at a house veterans affairs subcommittee looked at the backlog in processing veteran stability claims and dealing with complex claims like dramatic brain injuries. this two hour 15 minute hearing includes testimony from veterans, spouses and va officials. [inaudible conversations] >> good afternoon everybody and welcome to this oversight committee on disability assistance and memorial affairs will now come to order. throughout the pastor members of
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the subcommittee and as well as the full committee have heard from pa represents on initiatives that have been instituted in order to fill the secretaries colon disability benefits claims for 2015. the va implemented national reach offices including challenge training quality review team skills certification fully developed claims. the va will about new technologies in the form of veterans benefits management system and several other electronic projects as well as new processes for segmented lanes in cross functional teams. all along vb indicated significant support and training for central office would be critical in this rollout. on top of these challenges in april if 2013 the va announced that all cases pending in excess of one year would be completed by the conclusion of fiscal year 2013. based on this new pushed va instituted many months mandatory
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overtime for its employees pay with their general concerns on whether va employees were able to issue decisions of hype polity within the expedited timeframe there are also concerns that many of these older claims in fact were highly complex. regional office employees have previously reported that claims processors with passover difficult cases and would routinely decide to call it easy claims first in order to meet meet the production goals and maximize workload credit parameters. thus it would stand to reason that many of these 2-year-old and 1-year-old claims decided in the past quarter constituted a challenging workload. today we will hear about a focus issue which ties into the va's initiatives in which highlights the clear necessity of uniform central office support and
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thorough employee training. today's focus is upon the complex claims that are routed to the special regional office to include large multi-issue claims as well as traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress military trauma and claims involving special monthly compensation just to name a few. while va reported in november of this year the complex claims which gave an excessive time to require special handling only constitute 10% of va's workload. these claims require highly confident educated experienced attention. import my decisions rendered in these complex claims often have tremendous effect on the lives of these veterans. within va's strategic plan for fiscal year 2011 to 2015 the department of veterans affairs noted 30 times that be a strategic plan is results driven and that quote we will be
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measured by our accomplishments and not our promises. so today we want to hear accomplishments. what is going on in this high-stakes highly specialized claims process environment? how has employee training focused on the development of these issues and what is working and what is not working? also they want to hear about the focus investigations of the das office of inspector general who looked at specific complicatcomplicat ed claims on an annual basis within the regional office, previews fda reports as well as the recent testimony are alarming. in the past four years at least 19 regional offices have been inspected by the oig. of those more than half saw a decrease in the claims processing accuracy with respect to traumatic brain injuries. this means the reports indicate that the a's oig second visit to the regional office evidence
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more errors than the initial visit did. with respect to temporary 100% disabled claims while improvements have been made on behalf of the offices inspected still could not process 50% of these claims correctly on their second inspectioinspectio inspection. there are still no other word for this is unacceptable. at this time i would like to welcome our witnesses. we will have three panels here today. currently seated are the participants of panel plan and they included ms. lauren price united states navy retired accompanied by mr. james price who is also united states navy retired who are here on behalf of veteran warriors. to mr. price's left surviving spouse ms. bettye mcnutt accompanied by mr. glenn bergmann partner at bergmann moore llc. after the conclusion of panel 1 we will hear from mr. sherman
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gillums the associate director for paralyzed veterans of america. mr. ronald abrams exacts ejector for the national veterans legal service program and mr. zach turned deputy director for claims with the american legion and the third panel we will hear from mr. tom murphy director of compensation service with the veterans benefits administration accompanied i miss edna macdonald director of the regional office and the third panel will host ms. sandra mccauley deputy assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations with office of the inspector general u.s. department of veterans affairs who will be accompanied by mr. mr. brett bronze director of san diego benefits inspections division. additionally the hearing record will include written statements from disabled american veterans, the tragedy assistance program for survivors and the wife of an air force veteran derek shafer
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with those instructions complete i thank you for being here and i yield to the ranking member for her opening statement. >> thank you mr. chairman and thank you for holding this important hearing. i also would like to thank the witnesses you mentioned who are here today for their time and trouble to share information with us. first i want to applaud the va for reducing the log by 34% since march of 2013. we know that the va can maintain this momentum and we are optimistic. we want to end this decades long backlog and we are moving in that direction. our numbers indeed show that the va is on track to reach the secretary school by 2015 so i would ask you to relay a message to the people who work for the va and to tell them thank you for their efforts and to please keep up the good work.
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as the dba continues to work through this transformation it's very important that we are working together towards solutions that will improve the processes of providing benefits to veterans, benefits that they have earned and we want them to be provided in the most timely and efficient manner possible. we need to be forward-looking so we can address the next issues rather than just the problems from the past past and we'll be able to anticipate what's coming down the road so we don't create any new backlog issues. earlier this year subtwenty worked on a package of bills that are forward-looking and i believe would help the va provide better services to our veterans. the houses passed many of these measures. they were bipartisan measures and i hope the senate will soon take them up and send them onto on to the president for his signature. one of the bill specifically was by the bill page which i think is appropriate to today's topic is we look at complex cases that have more than one issue
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involved with them. this bill would require the va to pay veterans has each of their individual medical conditions is completed. such an approach would result in veterans throughout southern nevada my district in the country in receiving their payments in a more timely manner rather than waiting until the entire case is adjudicated which can be very complex is we will hear. they can get pieces done as they go along. additionally it seems such an approach with better workload options where some of the best offices could specialize which have proven to be more challenging and complex such as military trauma and -- my colleague has introduced a bill that would provide colleagues with the better decision by doing just that and we look forward to seeing that move forward. i am proud to say that we seem
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to me making progress since reducing the backlog that there are still some clunkiness in the operations and the effectiveness or lack of effectiveeffectiveness. for example i'm concerned that the va may be oversimplifying some of the more complicated and complex medical conditions. the va has essentially broken down the coding system with nearly a thousand different medical conditions and endless. into just three lanes, easy, medium and hard. that seems like a simplified way of looking at all of these different variables and when you define complexity is just the number of medical conditions in a claim i am not sure that is an adequate way of looking at it. it's important to note that the number of conditions doesn't necessarily take take the complexity of the entire claim. this method of evaluating complexity made sense in a paper
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processing world as we look forward now to best practices they believe complexity should be measured not just by the number of conditions but rather by the complexity of evaluating and paying for the medical conditions that are under consideration. it's important that the va look within the current system across all 56 va regional offices to determine what are best practices for assigning that complicated work. we believe the dba could work with vbms tube roker work from one station to another to ensure the best employees are working on the most challenging cases. this sub committee and i think thank the chairman for his work on this and for his cooperative mess with our side of the aisle. we share a common goal and that is ensuring that our veterans receive the best benefits in a timely fashion so i think we can continue to work together as a committee with the va to develop
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these tools and best practices and i look forward to hearing your testimony and seeing what options may be available to us as we move forward. with that i yield back. thank you mr. chair. >> thank you ms. titus and with that i would ask unanimous consent that chairman mueller and ranking member michelle at will be able to participate in her hearing today. hearing no objections, so ordered. at this time i would welcome our first panel to the table. a complete and written statements will be entered into the hearing record. mr. and mrs. price thank you for your service and for being here this afternoon. mrs. price you are recognized for five minutes for your aural testimony. >> thank you chairman -- chairman randy and ranking member titus and members of the panel. veteran lawyers at asked me to express their gratitude for inviting ourselves as delegates represent their views on the
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va's handling of complex claims and the challenges they are faced with. most of this panel has no idea who veteran lawyers are. it's exact to what it sounds like great we are just a bunch of veterans but we are specialists that confirm a wide variety of fields and professions and bring in some cases decades of experience to the table. our purpose is to deal with not just complex claims but with all issues relating to the va's functions. in particular, i am a combat vet i served in the navy for seven years before it was medically retired. i contracted a terminal lung disease in iraq. i also crushed both of my hands, parts of my hands and had to have my hands rebuilt. i'm 100% disabled. i can no longer work and my life
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expectancy is probably less than two years. my husband is my primary caregiver. i don't need anything from va in longer. my complicated claims took four years to adjudicate. not once enough for years to the ever-present one single piece of new evidence. the entire claim was submitted fully developed in its entirety before i was discharged from the navy. i am here not to represent my claim or my issues. my husband and i are here to make sure that this panel and everyone that will listen to us will understand that cases like my own and unfortunately like mrs. mcnutt are not isolated. i personally have dealt with at this time almost 1000 cases just in the last six months of veterans and their spouses and children who are dealing with complex claims that are being
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denied over and over and over again or it being lowballed and zero-rated. we are not a vso. we are not a veterans service organization by any means. our sole purpose is to work to try to get resolution to the manner in which the va has conducted business. however we are not going to sit here and lie to anybody. we are going to make sure that everyone understands that we do not at re-with giving kudos to the va. over the last 12 years, the majority of veterans that have come home and come into the system have filed complex claims. this was not a secret to the va. they were well aware of what was coming home. we have a demographic of veterans that have spent multiple deployments, various hostile environments, come home and better educated now than they ever have been in history.
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.. a pictures this as a disaster waiting to happen because these are the veteran that are filing complex claims. on november 7th, secretary shin seki took credit for reducing the backlog by one third since march. we caution this panel and everyone involved with va claims to don't take that as gspe 's a >> there is a big part of the claims processing that they are not telling people. the most insignificant type of claim is not a medical claim. it's called a dependent status change. you get married, you have a child, you get divorced, your child ages out. it's a one document with one attachment, your marriage certificate, your divorce decree, what have you, they go
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into claims. they are adjudicated right alongside someone with a firm terminal lung disease or other illnesses. unfortunately, those claims, and we have been able to prove it to the subcommittee, those are the claims they are closing and calling "closed and adjudicated," and, unfortunately, that helps their numbers come down. we ask that every time you get a new report on the va's numbers, you look at it cautiously, question the data. they are not sending in screen shots of their work product. they are creating reports. there's almost no transparency. no one in the room can sit down and look at all the numbers the va's working on generated on a daily basis.
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congress has never denied the va a single penny for doing its job. the current budget, over $54 billion, is being paid out to veterans in direct benefits. the balance of their budget that they receive right now is for administration of their business, but they are not doing business properly. i could sit here for hours and give you statement after statement after statement of egregious behavior, wrongful denial, or, in some cases, deliberate malfeasance. all we ask is that you continue to press this forward. you consider our mission, which is to have a full overhaul of the veterans' administration, completely reorganizing the way
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they are doing business and demanding full and 100% accountability and repercussions for their actions. thank you, again, mr. chairman, ranking member titus, esteemed panel. we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here today to testify, and we'd be honored to take any questions from you. >> thank you, ms. price, and now we'll hear from ms. mcnutt. begin your statement when you are ready. >> [inaudible] >> do you have the microphone on? >> complex va claims. i'm betty mcnutt, the widow of ronald a. mcnutt, a vietnam war veteran. accompanying me today is my attorney, mr.bergman, ofbergman and moore. i was invited here today to discuss what has become my most
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complex and now 23-year-old claim. for va dependency compensation, i'm here for two reasons. first, i'm here seeking justice for myself and for my family. i asked va to correctly and promptly apply the law and grant my claim. second, i'm seeking justice for other widows and orphans of our vietnam war veterans. in the audience today is my son, who lost his father and his best friend when he was 12. also, in attendance today is my niece, sandra peterson, the daughter of a vietnam war veteran who also died from agent orange poisenning.
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mr. chairman, i filed my claim in 1990. this same claim remains pending. i waited a 1600 days of va delays and denials. da erroneously denied my claim seven times. for nearly 12 years, my claim sat idle at va because va did not respond to my notice of disagreement. the court of appeals for veterans claims returned my claim to va three times based on errors, errors conceded by the va. i know that va is waiting for me to die. without immediate attention, my claim is destined to sit idle for several more years as i wait, hope, and pray for a resolution.
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my late husband, ronny, was born in memphis, tennessee on december the 31st, 1947. as a 19-year-old college student, he was drafted into the u.s. army. ronny was deployed to the vietnam war in 1968 and 69. on september the 22nd, 1987, at the early age of 39, he died from aggressive form of cancer leaving me a widow with a young son. his death came quickly from a cancer that invaded many parts of his body very rapidly. ronny died within five months. i brought a picture today of my ronny because this hearing today
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is honestly about my ronny. he died because of the vietnam war and his service to his country. on his death bed, he told me about how he swam in the rivers highly con tam -- contaminated with agent orange. he told me stories about uses discarded agent orange barrels for barbecue pits. first, va has not contested that my husband served on the ground in vietnam. second, the law presumes veterans on the ground in vietnam were exposed to agent orange, and third, a medical expert provided the va with two nexus medical opinions
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concluding that ronny's cancer was as likely as not due to his exposure to agent orange in vietnam. va's jackson, mississippi regional office made many, many mistakes. first, on more than one occasion, the va applied the wrong legal standards to decide my claim. second, va ignored favorable evidence to my claim. third, the va sought evidence to deny my claim. a lot was taken away from me 26 years ago, and i've done the best that i knew how as a widow to provide for my son, brandon. the impact of my husband's death on my son was tremendous. words can't tell you.
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i have had emotional, physical, and financial disstress. for me, i have suffered unimaginable grief from ronny's death. for 8,600 days, words cannot express my suffering. going with my va benefit has -- going without them has meant coming home on different occasions to a cold and dark house because my utilities were turnedded off. it's receiving food and clothing from strangers as i sometimes came up short. it's meant begging for mercy as the repo man stands in my driveway at two o'clock in the morning to take my car. in cop --
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conclusion, the va's mistakes and their delays involve more than just me. it's not about just bettye mc nutt. there's many bettye mcnutt out there. the va processed appeals like my; however, va routinely ignores this loss. now is the time for congress to put teeth into that law so other widows, like myself, can get accurate and prompt decisions on their va claims. mr. chairman, no one should have to go through that for 8 8,600 days. thank you for listening to me.
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>> thank you for your testimony, both ms. mcnutt and ms. price. thank you for being here putting your personal view to all of us. start with a round of questions. i know the clocks aren't up, but we'll be able to see it from this end, so to move in a timely manner, the first question is for ms. mcnutt. talking about the process and moving it forward was accompanied by your attorney, mr. bergman here. could you tell us about when you decided to engage in counsel and how that has help you to get to where we are today in this process? because like you just alluded to, there's many other people in the same situation. >> that's just it.
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after his death, that was forever in front of my mind, so i per -- proceeded without any help, without any direction. i started researching the chemicals in vietnam. i read an article in a newspaper. it was talking about agent orange, and i filed a claim in 1990. most of these were just, as i said, stumbling in the dark, grasping, but as i went along, the more i learned, and the more i felt it was something that i had to do because my husband told me about this on his death bed for a reason, which at the time i did not understand. >> can you give a little
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insight, though, on how counsel -- >> after 20 years groping in the darkness and dealing with the va and all their errors, i prayed. i asked for help, and one day, i received a call from the vietnam veterans of america, and i was told that i might want to seek counsel. i went online, and i found mr. bergman, and i decided this is going to be the person that's going to help me. this is who i want to represent me. >> can you elaborate a little what you've gone through to expedite the process a little, if you will? >> thank you. as ms. mcnutt indicated, she commenced the claim in 1990, and her claim sat for over 12 years. when we came on her case, as
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former va counsel, my job, once i left the -- our job as attorneys is always to connect the dots, make sure the evidence that is needed to satisfy the requirements is presented to va. va is supposed to in its paternalistic posture give notice to veteran widows. they routinely do not do that. what we did in ms. mcnutt's case is assisted in getting the medical evidence. it was not difficult. her husband had a very aggressive form of cancer at the age of 39, and we put the evidence together with our arguments and submitted it to va, and, you know, we can do all we can to dot our i's, cross our
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t's, but we cannot make va properly apply the law, and we've been up to the u.s. court of appeals for veterans' claims three time, and each time a va attorney trots forward and say, you know, we made a mistake; this case needs to go back. that doesn't help ms. mcnutt, but we're hopeful that it's been 23 years, hopeful that we're near the end. some of the help that we got along the way, obviously, the veterans' choice act of 2006 is helpful in allowing attorneys early access to assisting veterans and widows. >> thank you. and one question for ms. price. from all the testimonials you've taken from veterans on a national scale, what are the most frequent errors you've heard of in the process?
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>> not in any ranking order, mr chairman, but most specifically as counsel, mr. bergmann said, failure to apply the law correctly, complete disregard of medical evidence provided most specifically from civilian providers. that is very high on the list, and the third one, and this rides to the top regularly, is the almost complete and utter disregard for anything that is consideredded a policy rule, regulation, or law. the raters seem completely imcapable of rudimentary reading of their own warnings. of a policy -- i have a specific one in my case. the secretary sent down a policy change and ordered directly to the regional offices with regard
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to those of us exposed to burn pits in iraq and afghanistan, april 6, 2010. the application of that policy law, to the best of my knowledge, has not been addressed once in the almost 5,000 victims i know personally. >> thank you. with that, yield to the ranking member for questions. >> thank you. thank you, both, for your testimony. you're very courageous to come, and we appreciate your willingness to share your stories. we don't want to see anybody else have to did through what you have. i understand that general dissatisfaction and the desire to make the va follow the law and to overhaul the way they do business, but can you tell us, just one -- start with one
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specific thing, and i ask you both, ms. mcnutt and ms. price, one thing to do through legislation that would make the process work better because that's what we have to work with. how can we change the law, or how can we change the policy in a specific way that would improve circumstances? ms. price? >> yes, ma'am. i have a very specific answer for you. >> okay. >> you could order -- create a law that essentially orders the secretary to establish a complete set of repercussions and an oversight agency that has the ability and the authority to dish out repercussions that when malfeasance, deliberate especially, is shown on the part of a rating official, on the part of a case manager, on the
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part of a health care provider, that those people can be terminated, that those people can suffer the repercussions like any civilian would for doing their job poorly or deliberately not doing their job the way it's supposed to be done. >> i would ask the attorney, if somebody is guilty of malfeasance and they are doing their job, aren't there already in place some ways to go after that person? you were a va attorney; is that correct? >> [inaudible] >> talking about in response to what ms. price just said. >> i don't deal much with malfeasance issues. what i deal with, ranking member titus, is appeals where each case that comes down from the court has language citing to the law -- title 38 section 7112
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that says this case will be given expeditious treatment. now, and i realize i'm not response eve to the question -- >> that's all right, nevermind. i'll ask the va for some of that information. i appreciate that suggestion. ms. mcnutt? >> there's got to be someone somewhere that has the total authority in making sure the training -- they say their lack of training, lack of technology technology -- i don't understand that. if i acted in those ways, i would have been fired, but i think stronger force should be put on them to enforce the law by putting someone in place or maybe more than one person that would oversee this law is
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enforced, that is it a serious matter, and something's got to change. i'm with her that if you can't perform your job, find another job. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. with that, recognize mr. lamborn. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for having this hearing, and thank you, all, for being here. i want to build on what the ranking member just asked. mr. bergmann, you've been on both sides legally and with your employment previously in what you do now. do you have any advice or guidance you would give this committee on how the va could work its claims process better? >> i goes the add -- i guess the advice i give, sir, is there be accountability for what i see is a lack of accountability at the agency level where we are not supposed to be on opposite sides of the
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aisle. va will not talk to us. we get -- if we do get someone on the telephone, they'll ask us how we got their number. we get differing responses each time. we cannot handle many cases at e agency level many times and we don't know where the file is because we get different responses to that, so i think if we can hold the folks who are deciding these claims accountable, that would help veterans, widows, and their counsel in expediting the process. accountability, that's a great thing to bring to our attention. training and incentives for -- do you have advice in those areas? >> as mrs. price talked about, she indicated her concern it
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seemed like some va raterrings do not follow simple guidelines. absolutely. training is key. i think the va's oig report of last year indicated that -- and i may be misquoting, and i think the oig provides a report later today -- that only 20% of the raters are properly trained, meaning 80% are under trained. these are people deciding our veterans' disability claims. not accessible, i would say. >> okay, thank you. mrs. price, i want to thank you for your service, and ms. mcnutt, i want to thank you for your husband's service. mr. chairman, i yield back. >> i thank the gentleman. with that, i recognize mr. o'rourke. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and i thank the chairman in organizing the hearing and the manner in which he's organized it.
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very often we hear from representatives from the va and afterwards hear from vsos or others impacted. i like this order because i'm really looking forward to hearing the va's response to the issues you brought up, and the word we keep hearing over and over again is "accountability," and to use your word, ms. price, " repercussions." we want to see how accountability is implemented and what the consequences are when they don't do a job properly or when there's a case of malfeasance or someone working against the interest of the veterans they are supposed to serve, we want to know what the consequences are specifically. i think you raised a great point. one hit home with me, and it sounds like with the rest of the committee, and ms. mcnutt, as i said earlier when i had a chance to meet you before the hearing began, i commented you on your courage in being here. i hope your story gal galvanizee
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va to resolve your claim that took far too long already, but also to serve as the added inducement to ensure that no one else is suffering what you have been through, and to bring stories like yours to our attention as an oversight committee and body and to the attention of va, so really appreciate your service, ms. price, and through you, ms. mcnutt, your husband's service, your support of him, his memory and legacy, and both of you on behalf of other veterans and veterans' families who are suffering these same kinds of problems, so i don't really have any questions. i'll reserve the questions for the va based on the issues you brought up. i just want to let you know your stories have hit home, and i really do think they will have their intended effect of changing the culture in added additional power to our ability to exercise oversight over the va, so thank you, mr. chair, and
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i yield back. >> thank you. >> thank you, mr. chairman, i thank you for holding this hearing, a very important hearing, and i appreciate the testimony of mrs. price, who i know well working together over the years on va issues, and mrs. mcnutt, thank you for your courage, and i know you will make a difference for others, and i really appreciate so very much both of you testifying today. mrs. price, first of all, thank you for your service as well. thank you for testifying and i want to ask you a couple questions, if that's okay. you've met with me over the years on particular case work, and i really appreciate that. you worked with the district off as well to work with our true american heros, our veterans. i have a question with regard to, again, give -- can you explain, a lab rate a little on
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your particular case what the experiences that row had over the years? i think that would be helpful to the committee as well, if you will. >> thank you, congressman. i've especially been my honor and privilege to work with you over the last few years. in particular for other veterans' issues, i know you're extremely supportive of all of us that came home whether we need va services or not, but to answer your question, when i got home i was still on active duty. i was stationed, and i was sick, and i was injured, and i went through the medical board process, and it took -- by the time it was completely finished, it took 10, 11 months to get through board process, but i stayed on active duty for 18 months total, and my first rating from the va came in, and
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it said, you have 30%. there's a rule in place called the deluca, and there's those who have bilateral appendage injuries, arms, legs, ears, eyes, anything you have two of. up until the time i had a dor hearing, it appeared to be the same case manager because i'm an english afish that do, and in the way the person wrote letters to me, the verbage the person used seemed to be the exact same person every time. the raw rating on my hands is 230%. that's a big number, but they have a very algebraic method of
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using math. both hands, i had the bones removed, tendons rerouted so i could actually even hold this. i can't tie my shoes, button buttons, do ziplock bags, all kinds of things. my last surgery was while i was still on active duty. i also contracted this lung disease. when i sent in the letter, including ratings, the testing that took five hours, and the letter that came back to me was telling me that i -- the amputation rule didn't apply to me, which is a basic rule the va has when you hit a certain calculation level that, okay, we're done, use the rule and treat it as loss of use or loss of use of the limb. you didn't lose your hands, what makes you think that you get to use the amputation rule? i had essentially that same
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answer all three appeals. my lungs, they told me i didn't -- both my lungs and my hands, they said i didn't qualify for combat-related or fmc. i was a convoy driver, drove over 350 missions driving humvees, lmpvs and an iraqi city bus in downtown baghdad, and i provided all that information in my case. pictures taken by combat cameras of me driving. they still denieded me over and over and over again. i have ptsd, for a variety of reasons up to and including being a combat driver. when i filed the claim, they denied me right away, immediately. they said, you don't have it. our evaluators said that you must have had a bad childhood. no, actually, i didn't. my childhood wasn't terrible.
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it was not great. i was a kid, but it had to do with the issues that happened over there, and i was being treated by their own psychiatrist and their own psychologist for a year who said i had ptsd, but yet they still denied me. does that answer the questions, congressman? >> yes, yes. >> thank you very much. >> thank you very much, and i know my time expired. will we have another round? i know you have three -- can i have one more question? thank you very much. mrs. price, the va stated in the testimony that from 2009 to 2013, the average number of issues including disability claim increased from 2.8 to 4.9 in that the va's issuing lanes. as an organizational structure to process complex claims and stated that the core lane includes claims with three or
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more medical issues that do not involve special pop populationsf veterans. that's a quote there. can you expand upon your thoughts about the aspect of the va's testimony. >> [inaudible] >> with specific to the process. >> okay. >> yes. >> putting things into lanes? >> lanes, correct, correct. >> does anybody here drive in traffic? does anybody here drive on the beltway? you have lanes. there's only so many, and there are express lanes, and in theory, everybody uses the express lanes. have you seen the stories about the guy riding with the man can in the seat to get into the express lane? there's good ones that go into the express lanes, but our special operations claims -- love they took that title -- we are complicated claims. those complicated claims are still being ignored and still
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being pushed aside because the lane that they have has a group, a group of adjustors and raters that are dealing with them. instead of them being either brokered out to other regional offices that don't have a backlog like nebraska, oklahoma, they are not birthing the amount they set on them, and then you have these core -- and i don't even get what core is, okay? you have three -- they have -- they call them the express lane for one or two. if you hit three, but it doesn't hit into what seems to be a rather fluid definition of "special" or "complex," you end up in the core. they are also not giving any information as to what the qualifications are of these people that are managing those lanes or those raters that are working in those lanes because experienced rater does not tell me anything.
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how many years did they raid claims for metlife before they went to the va? >> thank you. i'll go ahead and yield back. >> thank you. >> thank you, gentleman. chairman miller? nothing? i want to thank you, all, again for your testimony and being here today. you are now excused, and we'll ask the second panel to come forward to the witness table. at this time i welcome panel two which includes mr. sureman, executive director for veterans benefits, mr. ronald abrams, joint executive director of the national veteran legal services program, and zach hearn.
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your complete, written statement will be entered into the record. you are now recognized five minutes for your testimony. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. chairman, ranking member, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss complex claims, a topic that is near and dear to veterans like me and those who represent vca. the most experienced eyes amongst property to adjudicate. these can be the oldest claims in the inventory, claims with multiple issues or the most complicated circumstances to up ravel such as military sexual trauma, pts, and catastrophic disability. since membership is predicated on disability, that's my focus. pd service officers have expertise in developing, advancing the most complex claims in the system. we're special multicompaniation
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or smc claims are the exception for the representatives, and they are counted for pda, so we appreciate the long overdue focus on complex claims. veterans benefits administration has made tremendous strides in producing the backlog in launching the 21st century transformation initiatives, but as we sat in the june 2012 testimony, complex claims remain problematic because disability questionnaires, builders, and rule based calculators over simplify cases that require critical thinking and reasoning, not algorithms to adjudicate with true accuracy. accuracy numbers achieve through the use of these processes are qualified by context as it relates to complex claims. the problem is defining accuracy in the cases often lies in the eye of the beholder. if accuracy if by accuracy va means the veteran receives maximum entitlement, than accuracy targets remain unmet.
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va contextualizes data set such as the boxes checked on a dvq or exam results and follows the rules based prompts and the decision is free of error based on the algorithm instruction. they do not encourage the application of judgment based principles like reasonable doubt. while guide rating specialists and ambiguity in the evidence, reconciling the difference between loss of bladder control versus bladder sphincter. this is where we have issues with the way complex claims are adjudicated in a rules-based system. a veteran with severe disability may get an accurate rating basedded on limited evidence and binary rulings but not the most accurate rating possible that reflects the extent of disability or need. case in point that deals with the terrible condition that they all too often -- als or lou
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gehrig's disease. it's a motor disease that does not slow down for the pain staking protocols va must follow. since the passive of the als open entitlement to veterans and survivors, they worked over 6200 claims which as the field staff works on the complex cases and staunch that they are accurately adjudicated. when i hear about a veteran in san diego who received # notice that he needed to submit to a compensation exam to prove the need for skilled care despite the medical evidence of the need from the treating physician. va has prerogative to clawl claimants if exams pursuant to a claim, but this is one of those intractable rules that we criticize. the problem is this veteran was in hospice so we could not submit to an exam. the va rater experienced lane coach was bound by the quality driven rule that chp exams are
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mandatory even though there was enough evidence to grant the claim and the disgreat depression to do so under title 38 stating any hospital or exam report from a government or private entity may be accepting for rating of a claim without further examination. vha directive on critical evidence also allows the examers to supplement files with a telephone interview if necessary with the claimant. it was not used here. the word "hospice and skilled care" ordered a exam in the name of quantity. instead of serving preach fascia evidence, stanuating the need for regularly skilled care. it gives way to a calculator, supposed to be a decision support tool, not replacement for ones faculties. i make an analogy. three plus two equals five, and if every claim was based on
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metrics like decibel level or range of motion, a high degree of accuracy is achievable under the current system, but complex claims are like adding to irrational numbers, pi, 3.14 plus the square root of 2 to arrive at the outcome that's not sum with a calculator, and in that vain, they call for qualitative analysis to find the most accurate, all be it precise answer. the answer was never found in the san diego case as the claim died when the veteran succumbed to als. this was a missed opportunity to do the right thing. unfortunately, this is not at isolated kate. we see va regional office staff in the country point to the same rules to justify taking unnecessary steps in similar cases, and i can point to one in nashville for ms. mcdonald who will testify, and, of course, in new jersey, mr. chairman, i have a case for you if you are interested. we understand the dilemma va
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faces under pressure to reduce the backlog and achieving timeliness and accuracy targets, but every aspect of the problem is not a numbers game. in the case of complex claims as defined, there's no shortcuts to doing them right requiring experienced minds that are free to apply common sense and pro-veteran legal principles like reasonable doubt or foregoing chp exams when evidence is satisfactory in a qualitative deliberate claims with no lack of answers. as i said earlier, accuracy is not about how well va raters adhere to a set of protocols to arrive at a substantially logical outcome, not withstanding blind spots in the process. accuracy is measure by whether the va has provided the maximum benefit possible in these complex claims with precise answers that do not lend themselves to binary propositions and calculator. thank you, mr. chairman, ranking member titus, and members of the committee, happy to answer any questions you
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have. >> thank you, with that, i recognize mr. abrams for five minutes. >> thank you. i've been involved in veterans' law for over 40 years. the va has faced huge backlogs before, and the va has had to deal with reducing the backlog adjudicating claims faster, and in almost every instance, the error rate, especially the error rate for complex claims has gone up. you just simply can't go too fast when you have complicated claims. the first thing we have to talk about is what is a complex claim? some claims, by their very nature, are complicated. a special monthly compensation,
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traumatic brain injury, the fact regulation dealing with tbi is so complicated that some people call it the davinci code. look at it time and be complexed. some look at it by va or as evidence by the claimant comes in, ancillary issues arise, different theories of service connection come up. they can become very difficult. some claims, more than a few and more than i like, can become complicated because of va error. in those cases, the veterans face a nightmare, not only do they have to get the right evidence before the va; they have to overcome the unfair
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denial which is an obstacle that stands in their path. the worst type of va'ers are the result of premature adjudications. some varos incorrectly adjudicate and prematurely deny claims based on inadequate evidence, especially inadequate va exams. these errors reveal for many veterans that the claims process can be adversary. based on my experience working for the va for many years, working for nvlsd, going on quality checks to over 40va regional offices for the
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american legion, who should be commended for doing that work, shows to me that the error rate at the va has been consistently at least 30% in the various ro's. sometimes it's higher. it's unrealistic to assume that the va will ever get its real error rate in 98% over 70% of the claims appealed to the board of veterans appeals are reversed or remanded, and over 70% of the claims taken to the court are sent back because of va error. in fact, nvlsp wins over 9 o% of
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the claims it takes to the court. in its rush to judgment, we have found that many ros -- varo's prematurely deny or ignore many claims and potential claims. unfair premature denials cause unnecessary appeals and years of delay before deserving veterans obtain justly earned benefits. even more important, some veterans fall through the cracks. adjudicating many claims quickly doesn't do much good if many of these adjudications are done in a premature manner, and many deserving veterans are unfairly denied. what will happen is veterans will appeal the backlog will
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eventually grow, and we'll be facing this over again. i wish to commend the undersecretary general hickey for her commitment to the fully developed claim program. i think it's the best thing that the va has trieded in over 40 years, and i encourage it. we suggest the following: the va work measurement system, which encourages people to prematurely adjudicate claim, has to be overhauled even if congress has to pass a law. the va needs more people to work these claims. in spite of electronic this and lanes and all the other things the va's trying to do, which is a good thing, they don't have enough people. they need more people to work
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the claims, and finally, the adjudication culture at the va needs to be changed. many va managers that we've met on our travels, unfortunately, agent like they are producing widgets rather than adjudicating claims filed by real people. you saw the real people here today. their goal should not be prompt adjudication. the goal should be a timely, accurate, and fair adjudication, which in the long run, not in the short run, is the best way to finally adjudicate claims and reduce the backlog. thank you. >> i thank the gentleman, and with that, i know we have pending votes on the floor, but we may get the questions after mr. hearn does this. if not, we'll go to recess and
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return. mr. hearn, you are recognized for your testimony. >> good afternoon, mr. chairman, ranking member titus, and members of the committee. we're here to talk about the special operations lanes. va created these to address accuracy, but what we never talk about, though, is why accuracy matters. va estimates they will process over a million claims again this year. the difference between their goal of 98% accuracy and even 97% in over 10,000 veterans who may not get the benefits they earned. we all know the real gap in accuracy is far more than 1% as well. we're talking every year a small city in america full of veterans who may not get the benefits they earned through their hard years of service. each of those veterans is a story and a family too unique in its own way like the stories we heard from the first pam. that is why the person legion is constantly raising the importance of accuracy. for all those veterans on the other end of the errors, va's
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accuracy rate should be 0. why are there problems? it is a complicated system. it does take experience and attention to detail to get things right. putting experienced personnel on the tougher claims is a good start. when va has the ability to ensure this is consistently applied across the country with the right personnel to execute this plan, it will probably help with improving the figures, but there are still some systemic problems that hamper va's ability to get it right for veterans. i have been fortunate to travel to many va offices as part of the american legions action review program. for over 15 years, we've been conduct the week long intensive visits to va offices to review claims and asees va accuracy and to see inside the offices outside the beltway and get a true picture of how the implementation works in the field. consistency from one office to office leaves much to be desired. policies embraced by loadership in one office are given lower
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priority in other offices, and with mixed commitment, you get mixed results. va struggles with finding the right balance of develop for claims leading to adjudication errors. you can't build on a shaky foundation. we examined a dozen samples of adjudicated claims for veterans. often the claim is under developed or over complicated. both errors are a recipe for bigger errors later in the process. va has a tendency to under develop claims leaving adjudicatorring with too little information to make a connection on service or rating. for example, in april 20 # 13, we visited the nashville regional office. according to the april 27th monday morning workload force, they had 95% accuracy targets ri for the previous three months. in the last cases, 11 commented regarding case development and had seven with errors. the review paints a dimmer picture of national's accuracy
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than indicated in the workload report. in one case, a veteran was seeking service connection for ptsd. evidence with the the fire from a vet center indicated he was in the persian gulf in the desert storm and chronically fearful of death due to chemical warfare. they noted treatment for symptoms associated with ptsd in sughs and at the time of the exam had extensive symptoms associated with ptsd. there was no examine by va. they denied the service connection for the condition due to lack of symptoms, but a va pension exam should be afforded. the veteran had symptoms that should have triggered the exam that was never scheduled, and they denied the veteran benefits without due process. conversely, sometimes va does not seem to know when to stop and over complicate the claim. in june, we visited the reno ro. they had 93 #.2% accuracy
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rating. our review of cases resulted in comments regarding the adjudication of 59% of reviewed claims for va benefits. in one instance, they sought connection for ptsd. in a july 2011 exam, the examiner linked the veteran's condition to military service, the regional office returned the exam results august 20 # 11 # to the examiner and re-examine, and, again, they said it's related to service. aft second review, va finally adjudicated the benefits of september 2012 and sent the notice letter in 2013. va conducted two examine exams when only one was necessary and it took over two years from the date of the first exam to adjudicate the claim and another four months to notify the veteran. problems could be mitigated with adopting strategies our national leader advocated for in testimony before congress this fall. fixing a system that currently places emphasis on actions completed than done right, ag
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aggregating errors for a training plan are steps we want to see taken. fixing the accuracy problem starts with the right mine set that should not be achieving 98% accuracy. the mind set needs to be i need to get every step right for this veteran. until the problem fixed, we're losing the good faith of the city of veterans every year. thank you, and i'll be happy to take questions. >> thank you, mr. hearn, and with less than five minutes left on the floor, we'll go into recess and be back a half hour to 40 minutes. now the committee stands in recess. the committee will come to order, and we will begin a round of questioning, and i will start that off, and my first question will be for mr. abrams. you note in the written testimony that one manner in which claims are complex because of va error. cases of the sort are appealed and remanded and often more than once, further increasing the
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complexity of the claim procedurally. number one, can you elaborate on the common types of errors you see causing claims to be more complex due to va error on appeal, and number two, do you think greater focus on appeal and remanded claims assist va in learning from its mistakes in making less errors in the future? >> yes, i can. let me give you an example. suppose a veteran files a claim for ptsd. the veteran alleges that he suffered a stressor when exposed to combat. the veteran's service records show a combat infantry badge, which means the veteran was in combat. however, the va in effort to go fast sets up an examination and
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fails to tell the medical examiner to accept as true the fact that the veteran was exposed to combat. the va examiner looks at the file, doesn't see any evidence of a stressful incident in service, doesn't know how to read a dd214 and determines that could not diagnose ptsd without a stressor. therefore, he writes a negative medical opinion and diagnoses the veteran with anxiety disorder or something like that. the va then denies the claim. to resolve that claim could take five it -- five to eight years, and the va needs to take the time at the start -- this is just a simple error. i could get into complicated ones, and we'd be here much too late, but that's a simple error
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that can be fixed if the va takes the time at the start to tell the doctor what evidence to accept as true. that is not for the doctor to determine. it's for the adjudicator, the va adjudicator to make that, you know, finding. your second question was if they got more involved -- i'm not sure what you mean by "more involved." with remands? >> if they paid closer attention to the process. >> well, they should. they need to analyze the type of remands that come back from the boards and take action to train on that. we certainly look at thousands of cases a year, and we keep a
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list of the common errors that the va makes that we can win at the court for, and in my testimony, we listed some of those that you can see, but i'm hoping that the va does that. i'm not sure that they do. >> thank you. and, again, for mr. abrams, you provided example in the written testimony of issues with va adjudicators properly calculating the monthly compensation for severely disabled veterans. why do you think that calculating is so problematic for va adjudicators? >> do you want me to answer that? >> yes, please. >> okay. first of all, in my experience, and i think you have staff members who have traveled to, you know, ro's that have seen
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this too, smc is inherently a complicated issue. second, there are some things that the va looks for magic words for that aren't there. in the case i wrote about in my testimony, the veteran's military doctor said he had lost all function in his right hand, and he had lost the use of his right foot. the va did not concede loss of use of the right hand because the doctor did not say the magic words. when we contacted the doctor, the doctor changed his written comments and said he had lost the use of the right land, well, use of lost of the right hand and loss use of a foot generates an l, smcl. he already had an "l" because he
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was in need of ana because of the traumatic brain injury. this is a man whostles -- who was shot in the head in iraq, had 18 service connected conditions, operates on a grade school level, has tubes in his head that fluid comes out of, has terrible scars on his face, lost the sense of taste and smell, and is, you know, has suffered tragic wounds. .. rooms. i got involved because they wanted to help this guy. my heart went out to him. even after we produce clear evidence that he should get it smc are to, the va did next. i was able to reach the component of the va that does the work.


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