HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS
JANUARY 21, 2010
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE NOEL KOCH
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, WOUNDED WARRIOR CARE AND TRANSITION POLICY,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
January 21, 2010
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to join you today to discuss how the Department of Defense (DoD) transitions our Wounded, Ill and Injured Service members to the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Departments continue to work together to address these issues through the auspices of the DoD/VA Senior Oversight Committee and the Joint Executive Council.
The Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy's (WWCTP) mission is to ensure Wounded, Ill, Injured & transitioning Warriors receive the highest quality care and seamless transition support. Some of our Wounded, Ill or Injured Service members may be able to return to active duty following their recovery, and may choose to do so, while others may leave military service. But while in the care of DoD, it is my office’s job to develop policy and provide oversight of several parts of a Service member’s care, recovery and transition.
As you are aware, one of the most important efforts we have made was in response to the recommendations sent forth by the President’s Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors and required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (NDAA 2008) to provide a single point of contact for recovering Service members and their families. In response to the NDAA requirement, we launched the Department of Defense Recovery Coordination Program (RCP).
The RCP places Recovery Care Coordinators (RCC) in each Military Department's Wounded Warrior Program. The RCCs support eligible Wounded, Ill and Injured Service members, including members of the Reserve Component, and their families, by ensuring their non-medical needs are met along the road to recovery.
With the Servicemember's Recovery Team, including the Commander, Non-medical Care Manager and Medical Care Case Manager, the Recovery Care Coordinator oversees the development and completion of a Recovery Plan. The patient-centered Recovery Plan identifies the Service member's and family's goals and action steps and points of contact to achieve them. Effectively, the plan is a roadmap guiding the recovering Service member and family along the process of recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration. It may include information to assist the family member serving as the primary caregiver in receiving compensation, financial assistance, job placement services, support with child care, counseling, respite services, and other benefits and services available from Federal, state, and local governments, as well as our non-profit partners.
The Recovery Coordination Program is guided by a new DoD Instruction (1300.24) on the Recovery Coordination Program, which was drafted by my office with input from a Policy Working Group composed of representatives from across the Military Departments, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The policy provides uniform guidelines and procedures for our Military Service Wounded Warrior Programs and assigns responsibilities for implementation of the Recovery Coordination Program. It establishes parameters for determining the type of care a Service member needs, provides the support of a Recovery Care Coordinator and lays out the process for developing a Recovery Plan. It also requires that the same support be provided to qualified Reserve Component Service members. In addition to the Recovery Plan, the Recovery Care Coordinators bring to bear several other resources for our recovering Service members and their families through a variety of Web sites and publications. Our Recovery Coordinators, Recovery Teams and providers, Service members and their families all make use of these resources, including:
The National Resource Directory (NRD): A successful tri-agency initiative including DoD, VA, and the Department of Labor, the National Resource Directory is an online resource linking Service members, care providers and family caregivers to information on more than 12,000 federal, state and local support services. The NRD provides information on state-by-state resources and benefits.
The Compensation and Benefits Handbook: This book includes a section dedicated exclusively to caregivers. It provides community options such as transportation services, respite care, financial assistance, and counseling resources.
Surveys of our Recovery Care Coordinators and providers indicate over 90 percent utilize these resources as they develop and execute recovery plans.
The Disability Evaluation System (DES) Pilot is another program that my office coordinates with VA. As of the first week of January, 138 Service members entered the DES Pilot from 21 Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) during the reporting week for a cumulative enrollment of 6,408 Service members since November 26, 2007, when the DES Pilot began. Of those, 1,164 Service members completed the DES Pilot and returned to duty, separated from service, or retired, and 212 Service members were removed from the DES Pilot for reasons such as additional medical treatment or case terminated pending administrative discharge processing. 5,032 Service members are currently enrolled in the DES Pilot.
Active Component Service members who completed the DES Pilot averaged 275 days from Pilot entry to a VA benefits decision, excluding pre-separation leave. Including pre-separation leave, Active Component Service members completed the DES Pilot in an average of 291 days. This is 1 percent faster than the goal established for Active Component Service members and is 46 percent faster than the current DES and VA claim process. Reserve Component Service members who completed the DES Pilot averaged 279 days from Pilot entry to issuance of a VA Benefits Letter, which is 9 percent faster than the projected 305 day timeline.
Survey results show that across all Service members, Pilot participants were significantly more satisfied with DES Pilot Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), and Transition processes than non-Pilot participants. Soldiers in the Pilot were significantly more satisfied with MEB, PEB, and Transition processes than Soldiers in the non-Pilot. Sailors and Marines were significantly more satisfied with the Pilot than non-Pilot MEB and PEB processes. Pilot participants reported DES Pilot MEB and PEB processes to be significantly fairer than did non-Pilot participants.
In September 2009, six additional sites were approved for expansion of the DES Pilot between January and March 2010. The Departments of the Army and Navy completed initial site assessments and are currently conducting site visits to each of these locations. Upon expansion of the DES Pilot to these locations, approximately 46 percent of all new DES enrollees will be covered under the Pilot. We are conducting a joint DoD/VA evaluation of the Pilot that will help us determine the best way to expand the DES “Pilot Model” worldwide, the results of which will provide the basis for the final report on the Pilot due to Congress in May.
But these programs notwithstanding, much remains to be done. Both DoD and VA are aware that we can improve how we care for our Service members and Veterans, be it through further research, continuing to ease access to benefits for those who earned them, and better support for our Caregivers.
Mr. Chairman, we are reminded daily of our obligation to our Service members and their families, and particularly to the Wounded, Ill and Injured, and those who bear the greatest burden of caring for them. We are committed to providing the support they need to help ensure a successful transition through recovery and rehabilitation and back to active duty or reintegration into their communities.
We appreciate the opportunity to come before you today to discuss a subject which the Secretary of Defense has said repeatedly is a Departmental priority second only to the wars in which we are engaged. I will be happy to answer your questions.