American Legion News Release: National Commander Testifies Before Congress
American Legion National Commander Testifies Before Congress
WASHINGTON (September 11, 2013) -- While testifying before members of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs, American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said the most important part of serving the country's largest wartime veterans organization "is that I will spend the coming year personally meeting with veterans and military personnel throughout the country and around the world. I will see their faces. I will hear their voices. I will bring back their messages, and I will share their concerns with you."
During his Sept. 10 testimony in Washington, D.C., Dellinger said that many of America's veterans will ask him how The American Legion plans to improve their lives. "And, inevitably, they also will ask me what Congress and VA are doing to improve their lives as well. We all have work to do, in order to provide satisfactory answers," Dellinger said.
A large part of that work will be reaching out to more veterans, informing them about the benefits they have earned through their service, and getting them enrolled into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system. Dellinger cited a VA survey that found about half of America's 22.5 million veterans are using government benefits available to them. Worse yet, the survey also showed that almost 60 percent of veterans had little or no idea that they may be eligible for VA benefits.
"I am hopeful that a newly announced information outreach campaign by VA will dramatically improve awareness among veterans and their families, and I enthusiastically offer The American Legion's support to help spread the word," Dellinger said.
As for the VA benefits claims backlog, Dellinger said the Legion is "optimistic that recent efforts to move beyond an outdated, paper-based processing system will help the secretary reach his goal of eliminating the backlog of undecided claims. But, unfortunately, accuracy remains a serious problem."
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to process benefits claims with an accuracy rate of 98 percent, however, research conducted by the Legion at VA regional offices indicate that a near-perfect accuracy rate remains a distant goal. VA's internal reporting system places the rate in the 80th percentile. The Legion's Regional Office Action Review teams are finding even greater error rates, which Dellinger said is "unacceptable. And again, we all share in the obligation to correct the problem."
Dellinger noted that each year the Legion's 2,600 service officers and accredited representatives assist veterans free of charge with more than 540,000 disability claims and another 164,000 death benefit claims. They too have been processing substantially more fully developed claims (FDCs), which move through the VA system much faster because they require no further documentation.
To help VA and Congress to define and execute a solution to the backlog, Dellinger suggested that claims accuracy could be improved by modifying a VA work-credit system "that rewards processors for the raw quantity of claims they complete in a given span of time, regardless of accuracy.... The American Legion would like to see the work-credit system reformed to measure processor performance, based on the number of claims completed without errors, and in a timely manner."
Dellinger moved on to addressing the automatic budget cuts from sequestration, reminding Congress that the Legion has "not received adequate reassurance that our nation's military retirees and active-duty personnel are protected from the cuts. The specter of reduced services and increased rates for TRICARE haunts our nation's military retirees. A weaker military health-care system is not the solution to our nation's budget problems.
"The message we want you to carry to the Armed Services committees and to DoD couldn't be more clear – military retirees are veterans, too, so leave retiree benefits and TRICARE alone."
Dellinger's final topic of discussion was on the Legion's ad hoc committee on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since 2010, the ad hoc committee has worked closely with mental health experts, physicians, DoD, VA and veterans suffering from TBI/PTSD to produce findings and recommendations that can be found in the national commander's written testimony accessible at www.legion.org.
The Legion's TBI/PTSD ad hoc committee found that current PTSD and TBI screening and identification procedures are inadequate and existing treatment programs are lacking. "The committee recommends congressional funding and oversight, increased research and acceptance of a policy that those afflicted with PTSD or TBI be prescribed evidence-based treatments, and that only FDA-approved medications are used," Dellinger said.
The committee will continue to work toward advancing knowledge and understanding of these wartime signature wounds in effort to provide DoD, VA and Congress with evidence-based recommendations.
"Our challenge is great, and it is complicated," Dellinger concluded. "As it has for nearly a century, The American Legion stands ready to take it on, working in collaboration with Congress, VA, the White House and the veterans of our nation. To all who have sworn with their lives to protect and defend our nation, we owe the fulfillment of our shared and sacred obligation."
Media contacts: Marty Callaghan:202-263-5758/202-215-8644, firstname.lastname@example.org or Craig Roberts 202-263-2982 / 202-406-0887. A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr.Dellinger is available at www.legion.org.