He wasn't there when the hearing started so I thought this would be another hearing without him. But he was there before the witnesses made their opening statements. He noted he had a cold. Normally, I just offer some impressions on the hearing.
Today, I'm going to present a lengthy excerpt of his questioning the witnesses.
If you've never seen him on the Committee in action, I think the following will give you an idea of why he's one of my favorite Committee members.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Dr. Rooney, do you disagree with the GAO's testimony today?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: Sir, we look at the GAO as a partner to help us evaluate how we're doing. I think they brought up some very good points in their report. Of course, when you're using statistics, we may look a little differently at a particular statistic. However, I will say that there was nothing in there that we didn't think really helped us further understand where our emphasis really needs to be. There are improvements. We've been very open about saying this is a system that needs improvements. I think the GAO, very much, said the same thing. So we are looking to continue to work with them, take the information they provided, and it gives us a road map to make sure that as we're putting resources to it, we take their report plus our own internal analysis that goes even deeper than theirs to say are these improvements making -- are the resources making improvements to the system which we all know, and totally agree, is not where we want it to be.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Mr. Gingrich, do you disagree with the testimony of GAO?
John Gingrich: I -- No, sir. In fact, I look forward to the discussions we had before the testimony and the report because I believe that anytime somebody gives you insights into what you're doing that you can take care of one more veteran or service member to make their life better in this transition process we need to look at it and make it happen.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So we're all in agreement that we're just south of 400 days in the cycle of an applicant being processed? 395, I think, 394. In May 2011, the Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs committed to revising the IDES so that it could be completed in 150 days and went further and agreed to explore options for it to be 75 days. Now I-I -- I've had too many of these hearings. We have them every year. And we hear the same thing: "Oh, gosh, look at what we're doing." Now I've heard the most glowing progress report from both of you and then I get the realities of the days haven't changed. You have met some improvements in certain areas. I commend you on that. The timeliness goals in areas have been better. But the reality is that we've got a broken system and we're five years into it and I hear testimony where 'we're starting to begin to review our business processes.' Well, you know, why did it take five years to get to this? What -- What can you convey to me today that's concrete, that tells me a year from now, we're not going to be at 393 days. When you [Dr. Jo Ann Rooney] said earlier, "We're instituting IT changes this summer that will improve our times by thirty or forty," I thought you were going to say "percent." And you said "days." So now my expectations are that if we implement what you just said, we're going to be down to 360 days which exceeds the DES [Disability Evaluating System] and Secretary of the VA by the 110 days over what their goal was for today. So share something with me that's telling me we're actually going to do this.
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: Sir, that was one of the steps. The IT solutions are not the only steps. In addition, it was indicating that Army has hired 1218 people so we're also adding people to the process because --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Is this the first individuals that we've hired in the five years to pull us up?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: It's the largest group of people that we've hired --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay, we've hired people. We've plussed-up. And the overall time of completion went up. Not down.
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: Many of these changes, sir, are fairly recent.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay. Lt Gen Thomas Bostwick, the Army Deputy Chief of Staff recently called the IDES process "fundamentally flawed, adversarial and disjointed." Do you agree with him?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: I've sat next to my colleague many times and we've had the discussions and I believe that we're both acknowledging that it is a system that while initially designed and conceived to be on that was smooth and transparent and easy, we have not achieved that result.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So what are we doing to change it?
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney: As both my colleague and I have indicated, at this point, we are literally looking case-by-case. We are following cohorts through each step of the process to see when we add people to it are we actually improving the times? I'm not saying that we're not able to improve it for those already in the system but we also have to make sure that we're tracking the new ones in to say, "Did we in fact cut that time down?" And it is going step-by-step through that process --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: I don't want -- I don't want to seem adversarial, Doctor. I think we're all after the same goal. But you just agreed with a statement that General Bostwick made where he basically said: The system can't be fixed. Now if you agree with that, my question is very simple: Is it time for us to start over again? To take a blank sheet of paper and say, "How do we design this in a way that's for the benefit of the service members?" The number one priority -- the number one priority for both -- I don't question that -- who are caught in a system that's unacceptable today from a standpoint of the length of time, from a standpoint of the accuracy Senator Murray talked about. And I guess, you know, my question to you would be, if given a blank slate, would the Army design IDES the same way or would you do it differently? And if your answer is "differently," then for God's sake, let's do it. Tell us what we can do to be partners to change it in a way that it works versus to keep a structure of something that individuals who are involved in it like General Bostwick say "fundamentally flawed, adversarial, disjointed." That's not the relationship we want with our service members who are going through. The Chairman's been very kind to me. I just want to ask one last question and this is to Mr. Gingrich. You made the statement, I think, in your testimony that VA has the capacity to make compensation as early as they choose to after a service member is discharged. Is that accurate?
John Gingrich: We can make compensation the day after they're discharged. That is correct, Senator.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: The day after?
John Gingrich: Right. By law, we cannot do compensation until after they've been discharged.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: How long is it taking, on average, for the first VA check to arrive after a service member who went through the IDES is discharged from the military? Not the decision letter from the VA but the actual check?
John Gingrich: Right now it's taking too long. It's taking about 60 days. Well part of the reason -- and it's not an excuse -- but part of the reason is we do it by month. So if the person is discharged before the pay system is set up, you're waiting 30 days. And I think one of the things that the VTA will give us is they'll give us the information that we need electronically at the discharge so we can speed that process up. I'm very confident that we're going to get very close to the 30 day goal. And by the way, Dan and I talked, VTA will be in place in June and that process will not only allow us to track the payment, it will also allow us to track the ratings and the discrepancies in the ratings.
So there you go.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"