Veterans Affaris Nominee Declares ‘War’ on System
Veterans Affairs Secretary-designate Anthony Principi vowed yesterday during confirmation hearings before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to "shake up" the department's "chronically sluggish" claims processing system and to revamp the VA's health system, the Washington Post reports. "I do intend to make a difference," Principi said (Walsh, Washington Post, 1/19). He added, "It may be necessary for VA to declare its own war on claims processing." According to an Associated Press analysis, even after spending more than $200 million to upgrade its computers, the Veterans Benefits Administration, which serves 3.2 million veterans and their survivors, "took longer" to process disability claims last year than 10 years ago -- 205 days, compared with 164 days in 1991. In addition to streamlining claims processing, Principi promised to expand and "modernize" the veterans' health care system, "dogged" by criticism after a congressional study called the quality of care provided "often poor." The VA's health system includes 139 hospitals serving 3.5 million veterans per year. Principi said, "I believe that, overall, the Veterans Health Administration does provide high-quality health care. But quality health care requires constant attention at every level within the department. I will keep my eye on that ball" (AP/New York Times, 1/19). Principi also "endorsed" a proposal for the VA and the Defense Department to purchase medical supplies jointly, estimating that the plan would save the government almost $500 million annually. "We can provide an awful lot of health care to needy veterans with that money," he said (Washington Post, 1/19). Experts predict that Principi will have "no trouble" winning confirmation (AP/New York Times, 1/19).