VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS= AFFAIRS
OF MR. ANTHONY PRINCIPI TO BE SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
JANUARY 18, 2001
Mr. Chairman, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is grateful to you for the
opportunity to make a statement here today concerning the nomination of Anthony
J. Principi to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
We are also grateful to you and all of the distinguished Senators on this
Committee for your leadership and hard work on behalf of the vital needs of
veterans and their families in the 106th Congress, which just ended
last month. VVA looks forward to
working even more closely with you, your distinguished colleagues, and with key
staff members to make the 107th Congress even more productive toward
the goal of justice for veterans of every generation.
Many of our National leadership team, and of our key
staff persons, have known Mr. Principi for some years.
All of us have come to respect Mr. Principi, and to admire his friendly
candor, his easy humor, and his open-mindedness to new information and ideas.
Perhaps most of all, we have come to admire his tenacity and deep commitment
toward achieving our common goal of properly assisting our Nation’s veterans,
particularly those veterans who still suffer from injuries or maladies
originating in military service.
In his career as a graduate of the United States
Naval Academy, he led many combat missions in Vietnam on river patrol. Mr.
Principi has conducted himself in an exemplary fashion, and was decorated for
valor. As the former Chief of Staff
of this Committee, and as Chief of Staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee,
Mr. Principi immersed himself in the issues that affect veterans of every
generation, as well as the issues that affect the young men and women serving in
the military today, becoming knowledgeable and conversant on a wide range of
issues in the process.
His tenure as Deputy Secretary of the United States
Department of Veterans Affairs and as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs was
marked by respect for the efforts of the men and women who serve veterans every
day in that vast agency, yet he continually sought to find ways to achieve
greater accountability from himself and all staff, seeking better performance
and results. He also proved to be accessible to the veterans’ community and
other stakeholders. That open
quality, coupled with his impatience with unnecessary bureaucratic delays and
excuses, will serve him well in the role projected for him by President-elect
Mr. Principi also led the so-called “Transition
Commission,” which examined the full range of services to veterans, focusing
particularly on meeting the needs of men and women separating from the military
today and in the future. The Commission’s report significantly advanced action
on a number of veterans’ issues, including services to assist veterans to
become self-employed and to enter and succeed in owning their own small
business, employment and training services to veterans, education benefits for
veterans, and many other useful recommendations. His service in leading this
Commission, comprised of distinguished veterans, was also marked by an attitude,
followed by action, of seeking the views of as broad a range of veterans and
other stakeholders as possible. VVA trusts that Mr. Principi will continue to
exhibit the same willingness to seek and be responsive to the organized veterans
community, as well as individual veterans and the widows and orphans of veterans
who died as a result of injuries or maladies incurred in military service.
There is much to be done to restore vitally needed
organizational capacity in the Veterans Health Administration beginning with the
FY 2002 budget request, to eliminate the backlog of claims and ensure accurate
and fair adjudication of each claim in the Veterans Benefits Administration at
each and every location based on an even handed national standard, and a
pressing need to streamline and dramatically hasten the efforts to construct new
National Cemeteries in the locations where they are needed.
While we have not always agreed on specifics of
certain issues, or as to the best means to reach commonly held objectives, VVA
believes that Mr. Principi will be an outstanding Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Therefore, Vietnam Veterans of America fully supports the nomination of Anthony
Principi to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and urges prompt action
by this distinguished Committee and by the full Senate to confirm Mr.
I would be remiss if I did not go on to say that the
“what” is done in the next four years is more important to Vietnam Veterans
of America than “who” does it. We are pleased that Mr. Principi has been
selected by President-elect Bush to lead the VA, but the key is timely,
substantive action by the new Administration to address some very pressing
problems in vitally needed services to veterans.
The first signal as to how real and how deep the
Administration’s commitment is to veterans will be the President’s Budget
submittal in February. What is
needed at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is an increase of
approximately $2 billion more than FY 2001, just to keep up with inflation.
Moreover, it is clear that VHA is not in compliance with the 1996 law
that created eligibility reform in that the capacity of specialized services has
not been maintained at the FY 1996 level, as required by that statute.
VVA estimates that we need an increase of averaging at least $1 billion
per year for three years to begin to restore desperately needed organizational
capacity to the specialized services such as spinal cord injury treatment,
seriously and chronically mentally ill, blind and visually impaired treatment
and services, and the other so-called “specialized services.” Congress has
added significant resources to the last two budgets submitted by the Executive
branch, but this has been inadequate to make up for three years of “flat
lined” budgets. The new
Administration simply must ask for more resources to VHA.
While there are no doubt some cost neutral steps that
can be taken to improve performance at the Veterans Benefits Administration, and
eliminate the backlog of claims pending for initial action and the slew of
claims mired in the appeals process because those claims were not correctly
adjudicated the first time, the simple fact is that the Compensation &
Pension service does not have enough people nor funds for modernization to get
the job done properly. The new
Administration needs to request additional resources if they are serious about
improving this process.
In addition to the vital need for adequate resources
is the issue of building more accountability into both the medical system and
the benefits system for the performance and results of how well those resources
are spent, and whether the VA actually met the needs of veterans within the
reasonable limits of the resources provided.
In other words, VVA suggests that the new Secretary must take steps to
carefully examine whether the principles of the Government Performance and
Results Act are being implemented as fully as possible in all areas of the VA.
We believe that much more can be done in this regard.
We urge the new Secretary to move forward and bring
to conclusion the process for declaring type II diabetes and hepatitis C as
presumptive service connected conditions, and to ensure that the process for
each of these conditions is completed by Memorial Day of 2001.
While there are many other things that need to be done, ensuring that
efforts already underway in this regard are completed and brought to fruition
will be a key indicator of what the next four years will be like.
We trust that the new Secretary will do the right
thing and move forward on these two vital issues. While there are many other
pressing issues, we will take up directly with the new Secretary.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for providing the opportunity
for Vietnam Veterans of America to share our views with you today.
VETERANS OF AMERICA
national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans
membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19) with the Internal Revenue
Service. VVA is also appropriately
registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of
Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the
routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional
Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program
(Service Representatives). This is
also true of the previous two fiscal years.
For further information, please contact:
Director, Government Relations
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000, extension 127
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