On Tuesday, April 23rd, Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  At this hearing, Secretary Eric Shinseki testified on the veterans’ program proposals in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget. In addition to questioning Secretary Shinseki about the Department’s ongoing efforts to provide the care and benefits our veterans have earned, Murray asked Secretary Shinseki to address his recent announcement about Department plans to reduce the claims backlog by expediting the processing of benefit claims that have been pending for a year or more. 

In response to the announcement, Murray questioned Secretary Shinseki specifically about the effects of the expedited process, “Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Hickey, as I mentioned, your announcement of a new initiative to expedite claims that have been waiting over a year is encouraging.  I am glad to see the Department is taking action, but I have some questions about how it will be implemented. If VA determines the veteran’s final rating is lower than the provisional rating, will the Department seek to recover money already paid to the veteran?” 

Key Excerpts from Murray’s opening statement: 

“One of the newest developments is VA’s recent announcement that it will focus on expediting claims that have been pending for more than a year by granting “provisional” ratings.  This will allow veterans to receive benefits while their claims are finalized. I am pleased the Department is taking action and trying a new initiative to make a difference for our veterans.  But I still have a number of questions about how this will be implemented. Certainly we cannot maintain the status quo, where almost 70 percent of veterans are waiting 125 days or more for their claims.” 

“As I have said before, not every veteran will be affected by these invisible wounds.  But when a veteran has the courage to stand up and ask for help, VA must be there every single time.  VA must be there with not only timely access to care, but also the right type of care.” 

“This is especially important at a time when 22 veterans per day are taking their own lives.  VA has a number of good initiatives, such as the Veterans Crisis Line and the Suicide Prevention Coordinators, but clearly we still need to do more.”

“I will also continue working to end the terrible epidemic of military sexual assault in the services.  In the coming days, I will introduce legislation to help prevent sexual assault and protect the victims. And at the same time, VA must continue to provide for those suffering from M.S.T. Only a small fraction of sexual assaults in the military are reported.  So VA must provide both the highest quality treatments, but also outreach and screening to help these victims get into care.”

“Getting our veterans into education programs, into good jobs, or starting small businesses doesn’t benefit just the veteran.  It helps us grow our economy and the middle class.  It builds on the investments we have made in our veterans, as they continue to help our communities, our businesses, and fellow veterans.”

Read Chairman Murray's opening statement HERE.

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Witness Statement