Critical Issues Must be Addressed

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A U.S. Army soldier at Camp Shelby, Miss., enrolls for benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs, new online application.

In anticipation of the White House budget request, DAV and our allies in the veterans community continue our proactive efforts to inform and educate not only the Department of Veterans Affairs and its stakeholders, but also the general public, the administration and Congress, about the most pressing issues affecting the men and women who served and their families.

In that regard, DAV, AMVETS, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and the Paralyzed Veterans of America have issued a review of the critical issues that must be addressed in the administration’s budget for fiscal year 2014. These organizations have remained steadfast over the years to ensure that our government provides:

  • Competent, compassionate and consistently high-quality health care to all eligible veterans, and to their eligible family members and survivors;
  • Timely and accurate delivery of all earned benefits to veterans, dependents and survivors, including disability compensation, pensions, education, housing assistance and other necessary support; and
  • Dignified memorial services to all eligible veterans and preserving our national cemeteries as shrines to those lost in or following service to the nation.

“After more than a decade of continuous war, VA will be stressed to continue to meet the growing health care needs of the nation’s veterans long after our uniformed personnel repatriate from their deployments. Their long-term wounds, whether physical or psychological, will need to be attended to by VA. This is a responsibility that cannot and should not be minimized,” said National Legislative Director Joseph Violante.

“As with previous generations, veterans’ injuries will require highly specialized, lifelong care, sophisticated prosthetics and other vital equipment and services,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “Providing for all veterans is a firm and lasting commitment, not only by VA but by all Americans, to restore their lives and return them to a state of optimal health.”

Despite growing pressure on the administration and Congress to rein in federal spending, they must ensure that VA health care and benefits programs receive adequate funding to meet the demands of veterans. “In these uncertain economic times, coupled with a growing federal deficit, we have serious concerns about potential reductions in VA operations. Any cuts to VA programs, particularly in light of continuing anxiety about sufficient funding, could have devastating consequences for the delivery of health care and benefits to veterans,” said National Adjutant Arthur H. Wilson.

DAV calls on the administration and Congress to ensure that the health care and benefits programs administered by VA are protected from any efforts to reduce spending as a result of deficit and debt reduction steps. The administration and Congress also must work together to ensure that the advance appropriations already provided for fiscal year 2013 will be sufficient to meet the projected demand for veterans health care in that year, and they must ensure that sufficient resources will be provided in the advance appropriation for fiscal year 2014 as well.

It is also vital that VA continue to improve and modernize the benefits delivery system. After three years of study and testing, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is finally deploying a new claims-processing system with a new information technology framework, and Congress must ensure that this transformation process is successfully completed so that veterans’ claims for benefits can be decided right the first time.

“Particularly crucial to VA’s efforts has been the VBA’s decision to reach out to DAV and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) accredited by VA to help veterans file claims. The VBA recognized that this collaboration could reduce its workload and increase the quality of its work,” said National Service Director Garry Augustine. “To be successful, however, the VBA must continue to work in an open and transparent manner to strengthen its partnership with VSOs.”

That collaboration has been particularly valuable in developing and deploying the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). This paperless, rules-based claims-processing work tool will rely upon electronic claims files, managed workflow, increased production and improved quality. Whether or not the VBMS will “revolutionize” claims processing may not be known for years to come; however, DAV believes the transition from paper-based processing to an intelligent, digital processing system is inevitable and must be completed. “DAV will continue to work with the VBA to help ensure that the VBMS gains all the capabilities needed to do the job ahead,” Augustine said.

Another challenge facing veterans is a successful transition from military service to civilian status, which hinges upon a veteran’s ability to be competitive in the workforce. “To help ensure a successful transition, Congress mandated a more comprehensive approach to preparing service members for entering civilian life. Now it must properly fund employment, training and education programs to meet the increasing needs of the men and women transitioning from active military service into an intensely competitive civilian job market,” Jesinoski said.

“The veterans community has played a role in evaluating the new curriculum as it has evolved, and DAV will continue monitoring the program’s implementation across each of the uniformed services,” Augustine said. “The new curriculum must be relevant to today’s transitioning service members by allowing it to be tailored to the unique circumstances each new veteran may face, such as pursuing an education, searching for a career or starting a business.”

In addition to meeting veterans’ health care needs, the VA must have adequate funding to maintain its critical infrastructure. “As VA strives to improve the quality and delivery of care for our wounded, ill and injured veterans, the facilities that provide that care continue to erode,” said Jesinoski.

With buildings that have an average age of 60 years, VA has a monumental task of improving and maintaining these facilities. DAV urges the Administration and Congress to provide the necessary resources to maintain and improve the VA’s critical infrastructure as outlined in the department’s Strategic Capital Investment Plan.

“As the 113th Congress and the Administration begin crafting a budget, DAV will continue educating them about these critical needs and carry forward recommendations for funding levels and policy initiatives that will deliver on America’s promises to our nation’s veterans, their families and survivors,” said Violante. “It will be absolutely essential that our grassroots advocacy network stay informed, stay ready and take decisive action to do what’s right by veterans.”