The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) monitors all legislation affecting veterans, alerts VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and actively lobbies Congress and the administration on veterans issues. With VFW’s own priority goals in mind, combined with the support of 2 million members of VFW and its auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!

Friday, April 4, 2014

House Discusses VA’s Response Time to Congressional Inquiries

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This week your VFW was on hand for a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing addressing long wait times for VA to respond to Congressional requests. New VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, who was confirmed by the Senate in February, was the only witness before the committee.

To read Gibson’s prepared remarks, click here.

To view a webcast of the hearing, click here.

The issue of unanswered Congressional requests has strained the trust between VA and the committee. Committee members expressed their concerns regarding the matter by providing examples and then inquiring about the delay in the response.

Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., noted that Gibson’s testimony provided a positive outlook on the potential for change in VA in terms of providing testimony on time and promptly answering Congressional requests. Miller calculated that the average number of days a Congressional request sits idle with VA is 143 days. Three requests remain from 2012 and the oldest request is pending for more than 600 days.

In prior hearings, VA officials explained that the agency receives thousands of requests from Capitol Hill, and that the agency has difficulty in answering so many. Miller reiterated the importance of the committee’s oversight of VA and explained that the department is responsible for providing “complete, accurate, and timely answers,” and that pushing the issue through VA’s chain of command might eventually solve the problem.

In his testimony, Gibson acknowledged that VA has plenty of work to do. He said that VA is, “built on a foundation of trust,” and that anything that erodes this trust does tangible harm to veterans. While standing by the side of VA and defending its successes, Gibson commended Congress for its role in the matter, and suggested ways to improve the relationship between the VA and Congress through both formal and informal meetings that would allow the committee and VA to interact in lighter and more constructive atmospheres.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., expressed the deepest disappointment, citing an example of a request he made last year that is still unanswered. Others, such as Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, sought to flesh out clear and concise responses from Gibson. Bilirakis inquired about the nature of answering requests, whether they were prioritized or answered in the order they arrived. Wenstrup asked for greater communication between the VA and the committee, as the current environment may feel pressured.

The committee also discussed other problems, such as the employment of potentially disruptive VA employees and mental health. Gibson also predicted that the recent Fort Hood incident will invigorate further talks on Veterans’ mental healthcare.

Your VFW remains committed to improving the connection between VA, Congress, and most importantly, veterans. New veterans’ issues will continue to emerge as the conflict in Afghanistan draws down, and both VA and Congress will have an obligation to address these issues in a timely manner. Check back regularly for updates.

For more information on new VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, click here.

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