Secretary promises to be forceful advocate for veterans and forthright with Congress.
February 4, 2009, Washington, DC – On Wednesday, February 4, 2009, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bob Filner conducted a hearing on the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Secretary Eric K. Shinseki presented testimony to the Committee and gave his assessment of the agency that he took the reins of on January 20, 2009.
Chairman Filner welcomed the Secretary to the hearing: “You are a man of great courage and intellectual honesty. You have been called a ‘soldier’s soldier,’ which is one of the highest accolades your troops can give to you. We look to you to care for the Nation’s veterans now under your command in the same way. I look forward to working with you to transform the VA into a 21st century Department.”
Secretary Shinseki discussed his proposals and goals for the VA: “I intend to encourage teamwork, reward initiative, seek innovation, demand the highest levels of integrity, transparency and performance in leading the Department through the fundamental and comprehensive change it must quickly undergo, if it is to be transformational. People induce change, not technology or processes, so transformation is ultimately a leadership issue.”
Secretary Shinseki discussed the backlog on benefits claims and the need to move to a paperless, electronic benefits claims system in order to expedite and streamline claims processing. He set a goal of putting this system in place by 2012. Shinseki also stated his goal of putting together a timely budget for the VA and eliminate the need for continuing resolutions that hamper planning.
Shinseki also discussed the progress the VA has made in several areas, including improving post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and treatment and working with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Shinseki cited that in 2008, the VA was able to intervene and help prevent more than 700 cases of veterans contemplating suicide.
The Secretary revealed that he has been working closely with Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates to improve the transition process from military to civilian life. He stressed the need for one single electronic medical record that follows the veteran from the military to the VA.
Secretary Shinseki concluded by promising to be a forceful advocate for veterans and to be honest and forthright with the Committee. “The privilege of leading the VA is a noble calling,” stated Shinseki. “I look at it as an opportunity to give back to our veterans.”
Chairman Filner concluded, “I am glad that Secretary Shinseki is committed to being a visible leader and meeting with veterans around the country to learn firsthand of the issues they are dealing with. His background in the military has resulted in a man that understands the importance of accountability and results. So many veterans view the VA as ‘Veterans Adversary’ and the Secretary is off to a great start to ensure that veterans will view the VA as ‘Veterans Advocate.'”