Today in Washington, an extremely important hearing took place that you won't read much about in the papers tomorrow.
The Senate held confirmation hearings for VA Secretary nominee, Lt. General James Peake (Ret.), M.D.
The new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs will be on the frontlines of an urgent fight to improve care for this country's veterans. With almost 400,000 pending disability claims, the VA faces massive challenges that must be addressed by a dedicated and effective leader.
1. In 2007, the scandal at Walter Reed finally drew attention to the tremendous obstacles facing wounded troops coming home from Iraq. But many of these issues were already coming to light years earlier, even in 2003 and 2004, when you were Surgeon General. You have said that you were unaware of any problems during your tenure. How will you ensure these mistakes aren't repeated at VA?
2. Having worked most recently for QTC Management, a major contractor with the VA, what is your stance on expanding the role of private contractors as providers of VA services and benefits?
3. According to the Pentagon's Task Force on Mental Health, "the current complement of mental health professionals is woefully inadequate" to provide the mental health care to today's military. Do you agree with this assessment? Should you have done more to alleviate this shortage in the military, and how will you address this problem at VA?
4. Do you believe the current World War Two-style GI Bill adequately covers the cost of college tuition today? If not, what specific improvements to the GI Bill would you recommend?
5. As VA Secretary, would you commit to implementing immediately the VA-specific recommendations from the Dole-Shalala Commission?
6. Disabled veterans are waiting too long for their disability benefits. The number of backlogged claims has increased over 50 percent over the past three years to almost 400,000 pending disability claims. Just last week, a new report showed that the average time for claims processing has risen again, to 183 days. What will you do to reduce the backlog?
7. The VA budget is late again this year, and temporary funding bills leave veterans' hospitals unable to plan their budgets accurately. Do you think mandatory VA funding is the answer?
8. According to the VA, "more than 25 percent of veterans enrolled in VA health care -- over 1.7 million -- live over 60 minutes driving time from a VA hospital." This number is likely to rise because the mission in Iraq has relied heavily on National Guardsmen and Reservists, who are disproportionately from rural areas, underserved by VA hospitals and clinics. How would you better the care available to veterans living in rural areas?
9. Since 2001, 22,000 troops have been discharged from the military with a 'personality disorder.' Personality disorder discharges have increased 40 percent in the Army since the invasion of Iraq. Why do you think there has been such a dramatic increase in what are supposedly pre-existing conditions? Many have suggested that these troops are actually suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Do you believe PTSD is being misdiagnosed?
10. You will have much less time than your predecessors to influence VA policy under this Administration. What are the top three specific changes you hope to implement during your tenure and what can you realistically hope to accomplish?
The new Secretary of the VA will inherit a department under enormous strain. With the presidential election less than a year away, he may have a small window to affect significant change. IAVA looks forward to learning whether Dr. Peake is the right candidate to hold this critical position.