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Veterans Views: Efficiency and lean thinking hallmarks of VA

Greg Remus

The Minnesota delegation of the Disabled American Veterans was well represented at the annual Midwinter Legislative Conference in Washington in February. I was part of this delegation and felt it was a worthwhile venture. The theme from Capital Hill was clear: Efficiency and lean thinking. It was obvious that our elected leaders support veterans and veterans programs but based on our nations current fiscal situation they are looking for ways to cut the VA budget without impacting veteran services.

We heard from VA Deputy Secretary Gingrich (not Newt). He spoke of VA Secretary Shinseki's goal to achieve claims processing completion within 125 days and with 98 percent accuracy. The approach will be multi-faceted. They are designing a new web based paperless claims processing system.

It is in a multi-phase deployment designed to begin national deployment by July 2012. The VA is prioritizing the development of a shared database between the military and the VA. At this point service treatment records are printed and sent to the VA for claims work. In the future the VA could simply access the treatment records on-line. He announced the release of 68 new forms related to pension and compensation claims. They are called disability benefits questionnaires.

They will be available to private physicians. Your doctor can fill out one of the forms related to the specific disability and if filled out completely it will contain sufficient information needed by the VA to make a decision without having to schedule a compensation examination at a VA Medical Center. Secretary Gingrich also provided information explaining the proposed budget.

The biggest expected shortfall is in construction. According to our veterans organizations there is a need for over $2.5 Billion but the Administration is asking for $1.1 Billion. Some would argue that the proposed budget does not contain enough funding to adequately maintain our existing building infrastructure.

We met with our national legislators. Our message to them was three fold. First, continue advanced appropriations to ensure the VA would be proactive rather than reactive in planning for and operating their programs and services. Second, ensure the VA is not part of the sequestration process. At this time it is unclear whether the VA will have to take a 5 percent cut. And finally protect rural health care initiatives in this environment of increasing needs for women's health care, homeless veterans, prosthetic research, and veteran's mental health.

I was proud to be part of this team. I believe participation at this level strengthened Hubbard County's position in the department and helped Minnesota keep a strong and consistent presence with our national legislators.

We left them with the message it is important to follow through with the promises made to our veterans. We can't ignore this generation's veterans without impacting our nation's future.

As always the purpose of the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office is to provide assistance and support to eligible veterans, their dependents and survivors in obtaining benefits through the State and Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs, and to provide benefit counseling, claims service, referral and assistance in a variety of other programs. You can contact me at the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office at 201 Fair Ave, Park Rapids, 732-3561. Have a great day!

Please note - I will be in Laporte at the Lakeport Town Hall from 9-noon and at the ARCC in Akeley from 1-3 p.m. every 3rd Thursday of each month.