DANIEL L. COOPER
IN NOMINATION FOR
UNDER SECRETARY FOR VETERANS BENEFITS
SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
March 14, 2002
Mr. Chairman, I am honored to appear before your committee as the nominee for Under Secretary for Veterans Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs.
In January 1991, I completed a 33½-year career in the United States Navy primarily with the submarine force. Since retirement, I have been involved in industry, participating in several submarine studies, advising for two University Laboratories and serving as a board director for the USAA and later for EXELON Corporation.
In mid-April 2001, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony J. Principi, asked that I chair a study focused on methods to improve the veterans' claims processes in the Veterans Benefit Administration. He desired that the entire range of available Secretarial authority, which could address the backlog problem, be reviewed and appropriate action be recommended. He chartered the Task Force to focus on those changes that he could execute quickly - those actions that he could require immediately in order to precipitate a dramatic and immediate impact to mitigate the claims backlog problem. In October, our Task Force reported to the Secretary and subsequently to Congressional staff and the VSO community.
If I were to presume to tell you what needs to be done, I would start with our Task Force report. The report is serving now, and will continue to serve as the blueprint for action. The recommendations have been fully reviewed by the Secretary and ordered implemented with minor modification. Finally, the acting Under Secretary and the acting Deputy have moved expeditiously to implement the recommendations.
I assure you that the philosophy expressed in the first several pages of the Claims Processing Task Force Report is one I strongly espouse. It emphasizes accountability, integrity and professionalism. Those principles are sacrosanct and I know of no other way to operate.
Some people who have reviewed the Task Force Report have implied that, with the dual emphasis of reducing the backlog and decreasing the time delays, we had somehow denigrated "quality". I desire to disabuse anyone of such a notion. The entire report speaks to quality. The quality of response and service to veterans is predicated on a timely, accurate, well stated and consistence process. Every recommendation made by our study - be it the "triaging" of claims, the quest for improved medical exam processes, or the BVA processing of appeals and remands - is based on being consistent, improving quality and providing timely decisions.
Further, I want to assure you I have sampled enough of the VBA organization, both in headquarters and in the field, to be convinced that there is a strong cadre of superb, dedicated, and enthusiastic people in the Veterans Benefit Administration.
During my short involvement with VA, I have been immersed in the Compensation and Pension programs. However, I am becoming more familiar with the four other very important programs overseen by VBA: Education, Loan Guaranty, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment and Insurance.
The VA Education Program has been a major contributor to the success of the United States since WW II. The GI BILL and its successors have educated more than 21 million beneficiaries since 1944. The goals in Education must be to reduce the claims backlog in this program and to improve the timeliness of response. A priority must be to implement properly the recent legislation expanding education benefits in the areas of "hi-tech" courses and in benefits transferability.
Vocational Rehabilitation provides services and assistance to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities to obtain and maintain suitable employment. Over 10,000 veterans achieved rehabilitation status last year. VocRehab must continue to enhance services to our most seriously disabled veterans and to achieve employment as an outcome during periods of economic uncertainty.
The Loan Guaranty Program guaranteed over 250,000 loans in FY 2001. This program continues to offer "no downpayment" home loans to veterans and to provide an attractive option to veteran buyers. I have been made aware of the challenge in the program to successfully execute the field restructuring effort that is underway. This includes consolidating the Construction and Valuation function from 45 offices to 9, completing the A-76 cost comparison study of the property management function and implementing its outcome, and finishing the comprehensive redesign of the Loan Administration function. Each of these is vital to our veteran population; knowledgeable oversight is mandatory.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Insurance Service in Philadelphia and learn of the tremendous success of this program. Obviously I would do all I could to support their continued success.
Finally, let me assure you that my intention, if confirmed, is to identify the best personnel I can for advice and implementation, and to visit Regional Offices in a methodical but comprehensive manner. I desire to leave no doubt in the mind of every VBA employee, of both the gravity of the "backlog" problem and the direction in which VBA must go to attack it. If it becomes necessary to make "mid-course changes" (in the process or in the plan) the emphasis will always be to do what is best to serve the veteran. And every action must be taken to ensure all the programs are given the priority necessary to be successful.
I can not emphasize too strongly the importance of working closely with the Veterans Service Organizations. We had VSO representation on our Task force and the both the TF and I, personally, met with various VSO representatives. I have also met with VSO representatives when I have visited Regional Offices, and would continue to do so if I were to be confirmed. A professional partnership must be maintained and strengthened as we move forward in the difficult job ahead.
I look forward to working with Congress, your committee and your staff to serve our veteran population the very best way possible.