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VETERANS: Murray, Levin Call on VA, DoD to Work Together to Improve DoD and VA's Integrated Disability Evaluation System

Oct 05 2012

Departments must improve collaboration, with greater involvement from the highest levels of leadership, to make real change

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joined with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, in sending a letter to the VA and DoD Deputy Secretaries requesting that the Departments work more closely together, as true partners and with greater involvement from senior leaders, to improve the IDES process. The letter also calls on the Departments to set a definitive timeline for completing the review in order to implement meaningful changes.  The requests stem from issues identified during GAO’s recently completed investigation into IDES.

“I am not convinced the Departments have implemented a disability evaluation process that is truly transparent, consistent, or expeditious. Getting this right is a big challenge – but it’s one that we must overcome,” said Senator Murray. “I’ve seen the impacts of a broken system – whether it’s from a wrong diagnosis, an improper decision, or never-ending wait times.  When the system doesn’t work accurately and quickly, or when servicemembers can’t get a proper mental health evaluation or diagnosis, it means they are not getting the care they need and they are not moving on to civilian life.  While DoD and VA are at a critical juncture, I am confident that by working as true partners and committing to real, meaningful changes, the Departments can improve the system for the thousands of men and women who will be transitioning in the next couple of years.”

“I am convinced that the DoD/VA Integrated Disability Evaluation System can be improved to better address the needs of our wounded, ill, and injured service members,” said Senator Levin. “This system is too complex, takes far too long, and still has an adversarial aspect that our service members should not have to endure.  It will take a concerted effort by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, working together, to bring about needed improvements.”

The full text of the letters follows:

October 4, 2012

The Honorable Ashton B. Carter
Deputy Secretary of Defense
1010 Defense Pentagon, 3E944
Washington, DC  20301

The Honorable W. Scott Gould
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Carter and Secretary Gould:

Essential to the effort of improving the transition process for separating servicemembers is overcoming the challenges confronting the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).  Earlier this year, as part of our Committees’ ongoing oversight of IDES, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing examining the multiple challenges servicemembers still face while navigating this joint program.  As was made very clear at that hearing, real improvements could only happen with the “total engagement, cooperation and support of all senior leaders at both Departments …” 

Indeed, the ongoing dialogue and Secretary Carter’s July 2, 2012, letter to Chairman Murray underscored this very point, affirming the Department of Defense’s commitment “to work closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to examine ways to improve timeliness and effectiveness of the system …”  Yet despite the importance of this work, and the Departments’ repeated assurances of promising results and progress made, reality has yet to match rhetoric.  

It is because of this clear and urgent need for total engagement, cooperation, and true partnership between the Departments that we write to you regarding the recently released GAO report, Military Disability System, Improved Monitoring Needed to Better Track and Manage Performance.  Discussing how to overcome the challenges facing the system, GAO recommended that VA and DoD “work together to develop timeframes for completing the IDES business process review and implementing any resulting recommendations.”

A timely business process review has the potential to help the Departments analyze each phase of the disability evaluation review process and identify areas where greater coordination and integration between the Departments is appropriate.  Such a review can only be successful if the Departments undertake it in a truly collaborative way, evaluating their respective business processes in the context of what is necessary for an integrated system.  Further, any such effort must have clear goals and timelines.  So while both Departments concurred with the GAO recommendation, the response from the Department of Veterans Affairs was particularly troubling:

Although the Department of Defense (DoD) has been leading the business process review efforts described in this report, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided input and support to promote these efforts and will continue to do so to the extent possible.  At this time, the full scope or current status of these efforts has not been disclosed to VA.  As such, VA recommends that developing timeframes for completion of these efforts should be deferred to DoD.

This response makes clear that true collaboration between the Departments on the business process review has yet to occur.  Surely, then, the answer cannot be to drive the Departments further apart by deferring all planning to the Department of Defense.  Therefore, we are writing to request from you not only a timeline for completion of the review and implementation of any recommendations, but also that you make this review a truly joint, collaborative effort to improve a broken system.  We also ask that you detail the steps you will take to personally ensure the Departments work together as partners in reforming this system and in addressing other joint challenges.  As the Deputy Secretaries of your Departments, your leadership is critical in order to create meaningful change for our servicemembers and veterans.

We remain committed to working with you to address the challenges confronting this system, but further delay and a lack of meaningful cooperation  is unacceptable and risks jeopardizing the Departments’ ability to achieve a truly integrated disability evaluation system that works.  Thank you for your attention to this letter and for all that you do on behalf of our servicemembers and veterans.