Good morning, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this
committee. On behalf of the members and families of Vietnam Veterans of
America (VVA), it is my privilege today to offer our comments concerning
what has been accomplished in the arena of veterans’ affairs during FY 2006,
what remains to be done in the waning days of this fiscal year, and what
needs to be addressed by this committee in FY 2007.
First, let me
review the simple and straightforward legislative agenda of VVA. First, to
secure adequate resources to properly administer the network of services
that our Nation’s veterans have earned. This includes a more adequate sum
for operation of VA Medical Centers and other vital health care functions.
It also included increasing the number of adjudicators in the Compensation &
Pension (C & P) system, counselors in Vocational Rehabilitation & Education
(VR & E).
asked that you and your colleagues take action to greatly enhance the
accountability of all employees in the VA, but especially managers and
political appointees. This would include being held accountable for accurate
adjudication decisions as opposed to just the volume of files moved forward
in the C & P service, as it has appeared to be the case in the past. It
include ensuring that contracts are drawn in such a manner as to systematize
the reporting of contracts and unit costs, with an eye toward getting the
most goods and services for the least expenditure of each taxpayer dollar.
It would also include greater accountability in regard to access to medical
and other services, as well as clinical outcomes.
asked that you take steps to greatly enhance outreach by the VA to inform
veterans of their earned benefits at the VA and elsewhere in the Federal
As to what
did happen this year, VVA commends you on your activism in tackling some of
the issues of critical importance to veterans, particularly our newest
veterans. You have sought to give real meaning to the term “seamless
transition,” to foster active cooperation between the VA and the Department
of Defense in providing assistance to newly minted veterans transitioning
from active duty. You have pushed the VA to greatly improve the way it
conducts its business in regard to Information Technology (IT). And you
have rejected the Office of Management and Budget notion that
the co-pay for prescription drugs be increased and a user fee be imposed on
certain veterans who avail themselves of the VA health care system.
most important piece of progress concerning veterans during the current
fiscal year has resulted from the unfortunate theft of a laptop computer and
external hard drive from the home of a long-time VA employee. The
information contained on this hard drive – we’re still not quite sure if it
was the name, birth date, and Social Security number of 17.6 million or 26.5
million veterans – piqued the attention of the media and the public on the
very fragile cyber-security of VA computers.
committee – and your counterparts on the other side of the Capitol – held
more hearings on this one topic than on any other single subject in the past
five years. Because of your swift action the VA moved quickly to set up a
telephone hotline and to send “don’t-panic” letters to all living veterans
(although we know of several who never received this letter). And Secretary
Nicholson has promised that henceforth the VA will set the “gold standard”
in cyber-security for the rest of the agencies of government.
numerous initiatives that have been started have yet to be completed. These
include cutting the enormous backlog of cases awaiting adjudication by
personnel of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). We know that
Undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for Benefits Cooper is focusing on this
problem; we hope his will not be the same fate as that of former Secretary
Principi, whose goal to significantly cut this backlog was defeated by . . .
that if the VBA is to make a permanent dent here it needs more adjudicators
who are well trained, can pass rigorous competency based examinations, and
are properly supervised. And these adjudicators must endeavor to get it
right the first time. Quality control is of the essence here. We think that
you’ll find that most veterans are okay with the D&C process itself; what
they are upset about is how long it takes before a decision is rendered
and/or lack of sharing the reason(s) for rejection in a clear manner if
their claim is denied. VVA thanks you and your colleagues on both sides of
the aisle for taking action that led appropriators in the House to add on to
the amount slated for the veterans’ medical care system, for research, and
especially for adding additional adjudicators and VR & E specialists.
line, of course, is funding – funding for adjudicators and, indeed, funding
for the entire VA health care system. Every year, it seems, funding for the
VA is accomplished via continuing resolution until Congress can come to an
agreement on a budget as well as the actual appropriations. VVA believes
that the method by which VA health care is funded is flawed and must be
rethought, to ensure a predictable, consistent, sustainable flow of funds
based on the per capita use of the system and indexed for medical inflation.
While we believe that accountability and means of measuring performance must
be greatly enhanced at the same time, more adequate resources must be
We urge and
hope that a bipartisan effort will be made to rectify this situation in the
next Congress and we would hope that like minds from both sides of the aisle
can come together to grapple with this issue and, with input from the
veterans’ service organizations, propose a legislative solution. Any
solution, of course, must contain provisions for accountability – the
accountability of senior and middle managers for the work they are charged
with overseeing. This is likely an initiative for the 110th
What we hope the current Congress will address, and pass
appropriate legislation that will permit veterans to secure legal
representation when filing claims for disability and compensation before the
Veterans Benefits Administration. With the enthusiastic backing of Senator
Larry Craig, the Senate passed S. 2694, the
Veterans' Choice of
Representation and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2006.
We know that some have expressed
fears that such a bill will only make adversarial a process that should be
cooperative. Others worry that passage of this bill will herald the demise
of veterans service representatives. VVA heard the same arguments before
passage of the legislation that accorded veterans at least limited judicial
review, and created the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
We believe that the realities will be just the opposite: that giving
veterans the right to legal representation will make the VA more cognizant
of its obligation to assist veterans making claims; and that service reps
will still have more cases than they can reasonably be expected to handle.
It is our belief that many (probably most) veterans will still utilize a
veterans’ service representative from one of the recognized veterans’
service organizations or state or county veterans’ counselor where there is
a good one available. We hope that the House will pass similar legislation
expeditiously, and we commend to you H.R. 4914. Passage of this bill will
be a tribute to the Honorable Lane Evans, the retiring Ranking Member of
commend to you as well H.R. 808, introduced by Mr. Brown of South Carolina.
This bill would repeal the dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC)
offset from survivor benefit plan (SBP) surviving spouse annuities. We urge
swift action on this bill, which would right a grievous wrong.
of California and Mr. Rehberg of Montana have long in favor of H.R. 4259,
the Veterans Right to Know Act, introduced VVA. This bill would create and
empower a commission to look into the testing of chemical and biological
weapons to determine if health issues suffered by veterans who participated
in these tests might have been caused by toxic exposures during these
tests. We know that jurisdiction over this bill is with the Armed Services
Committee, but you, Chairman Buyer, and Ranking Democrat Lane Evans have
significant “weight” with that Committee. We also ask that you hold a
hearing, or just take action to extend the authority of the VA to provide a
full physical, with a national protocol, for all veterans who participated
in any chemical or biological weapons research such as Project 112, Project
SHAD, or other activities by any branch of the Federal government that may
have caused them to be exposed to these biological agent, chemical agents,
so-called simulants, or the highly toxic decontamination agents. Similarly,
we urge you to take steps to extend such authority for such examinations for
those exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins in the Vietnam theater of
later, Congress is going to have to come to grips with the availability of
long-term care beds for service-connected disabled veterans. Currently
there are a pastiche of long-term care services and programs, some run by
the VA, others by the states. Demand is dwarfing available bed space. And
as more and more veterans are living longer and longer, at some point, soon,
Congress and the VA are going to have to address the long-term care needs of
these men and women and grapple with how to pay for this care. We urge you
to hold hearings on this issue early in the next Congress.
We also trust
that you will work to ensure that the mental health needs of returning
servicemen and women are met. VVA has had grave concerns that there is too
wide a disparity between supply and demand in this arena, depending on where
one lives. Some “networks”(VISNs) of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
have done a good job, and have organizational capacity to meet much of the
apparent needs…if there is proper outreach to these younger veterans.
whether or not a veteran can receive proper mental health services should
not depend on where one lives, similarly it should not depend on one’s
gender. While VA has done a very commendable job of ensuring that proper
counseling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) resulting from military
sexual trauma, there is virtually no organizational capacity at VA to deal
with PTSD in women that results from exposure to combat and other hazardous
duty. Frankly, mixing men and women in the same group sessions for combat
trauma is not likely to work, given the nature of the condition and its
manifestations. Similarly, Congress must ensure that the top civilian and
uniformed leaders in the military services take appropriate measures to
eliminate the stigma that is too often still attached to mental health
you for passing H.R. 3082 regarding service disabled and other veteran owned
businesses selling goods & services to the VA. We strongly support this
issue as well as extending the authority for future Federal funding of the
Veterans Corporation in exchange for re-structuring of the Veterans
Corporation. In the next Congress we urge you to address the Veterans
Employment & Training Service and the funds that are contracted out to the
states to explore whether there is a way to get more services for the same
amount of money, whether more funds are needed, and whether assistance now
available to veterans, particularly disabled veterans and recently separated
veterans (including those National Guard or Reserves members who are
underemployed or unemployed) is adequate to meet the need. VVA continues to
believe that the nexus of the readjustment process is helping returning
veterans obtain and sustain meaningful employment at a living wage.
conclude just about where we started, we ask that you monitor the progress
of the VA in ensuring the privacy of veterans’ medical and service records.
We believe this will mean requiring progress reports from the VA which.
History has shown that has been less than resolute in guarding its myriad
records against theft or computer hacking.
and members of this committee, VVA thanks you for the opportunity to share
our thoughts and views with you, and is pleased to work with you to achieve
mutually held objectives that are to the benefit of the men and women who
don the uniform to preserve and protect the citizens of our land.
VETERANS OF AMERICA
September 20, 2006
The 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
VVA is 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, Contact:
Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America.
(301) 585-4000, extension 127
John Rowan was elected National
President of Vietnam Veterans of America at VVA’s Twelfth National
Convention in Reno, Nevada, in August 2005.
in the U.S. Air Force in 1965, two years after graduating from high school
in Queens, New York. He went to language school, where he learned Indonesian
and Vietnamese. He served with the Air Force’s 6990 Security Squadron in
Vietnam and at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa helping to direct bombing
After his honorable discharge, John
began college in 1969. He received a BA in political science from Queens
College and a Masters in urban affairs at Hunter College. Following his
graduation from Queens College, John worked in the district office of Rep.
Ben Rosenthal for two years. He then worked as an investigator for the New
York City Council and recently retired from his job as an investigator with
the New York City Comptroller’s office.
Prior to his
election as VVA’s National President, John served as a VVA veterans’ service
representative in New York City. John has been one of the most active and
influential members of VVA since the organization was founded in 1978. He
was a founding member and the first president of VVA Chapter 32 in Queens.
He served as the chairman of VVA’s Conference of State Council Presidents
for three terms on the national Board of Directors, and as president of
VVA’s New York State Council.
He lives in Middle Village, New York, with his wife, Mariann.