WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, today attended a hearing entitled: “Disability Compensation in the 21st Century.” In response, Brown issued the following statement:
“Over the August recess, like many of my colleagues I spent most of the month in my home state meeting with constituents.
“One of the most meaningful meetings for me was a roundtable with veterans and veterans service groups in Chillicothe, Ohio. Chillicothe is a town of a little more than 20,000 on the banks of the Scioto River in the heart of Ohio Appalachia.
“The town is also home to the Chillicothe VA Medical Center, which serves veterans in Southeastern Ohio in its main medical center and its five community-based outpatient clinics. With more than 3,500 inpatient admissions last year, the hospital is known for its excellent in psychiatric services, primary and secondary medical services, and post-acute care.
“The roundtable gave me an opportunity to gauge just how important the Chillicothe VA is to Ohio veterans. I am convinced this facility is crucial. The veterans at the roundtable covered several important topics, from the claims backlog to why Ohio scores so low on benefits compensation.
“About 90,000 Ohio veterans receive monthly disability compensation. Many were in the audience that day. Each is affected by the VA’s Schedule of Rating Disabilities and each faces the difficult task of understanding its complexities.
“We need to continue to dig deeper into why there is not uniform disability compensation. A service-connected disability should be rated the same, whether the veteran is in Dayton or Daytona.
“These problems - the backlog and ratings disparities - in many ways relate back to the VA’s Schedule of Rating Disabilities. There must be commonalities with veterans at every rating level and every body system, wherever they may live; but we aren’t seeing that.
“I am also concerned by the “quality of life” component of disability compensation.
“It is a qualitative evaluation that produces a quantitative result. We need to be sure that this evaluation isn’t creating arbitrary benefit differentials.
“Trust in the VA is eroded when a complicated, subjective formula spits out a rating and a dollar amount, leaving the veteran in the dark as to the process and the rationale behind the compensation.
“VA can improve this situation by simplifying and rationalizing the benefits formula. More broadly, we should simplify the process by which veterans receive earned benefits. By providing a fully integrated system from the Veterans Health Administration to The Veterans’ Benefit Administration we can make VA run more efficiently and be more veteran friendly.
“There is also an information overflow problem. Veterans are inundated with paper. This can add confusion to an already confusing system. As it stands, there is a brisk market for VA “how to” books…the system is that complicated.
“One book, the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Your Military and Veterans Benefits” is more than 400 pages. Another book, “the Veteran’s Survival Guide: How to File and Collect on VA Claims” is more than 275 pages. The VA’s own Guide for Federal Benefits for Veterans is more than 150 pages.
“As we work to modernize the payment structure for disability compensation, four principles must be followed.
“First, any change to the system must make the system more fair.
“Second, transparency must be an overarching goal. Veterans must be able to easily understand the system and their compensation.
“Third, we must reduce red tape and focus on increasing efficiency in order to increase timeliness of claims processing and payments.
“Lastly, the system must be designed to maximize earned benefits for veterans, not to minimize compensation awards or the size of those awards.
“I am glad we are having this hearing today and am encouraged that VA and Congress are working together with veterans and veterans service organizations to find ways to modernize and bring into the 21st century the way VA handles veterans disability compensation.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.”