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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs
Alexandria, VA
March 21, 2011

I’m honored to be here. Thanks for the great work you are doing for Veterans. Some of you also serve on our advisory committees, where your advice and experience have proven invaluable, so thanks, yet, again. Welcome to the new directors. I look forward to working with each of you. We have a presence in each of your states. I hope you’ll get to know our medical center and regional office directors, and the VISN leadership [Veterans Integrated Services Network] serving your areas.

You are my counterparts at state-level and crucial partners. I need to do a better job of linking in with you. I have been here for two years now, and there’s room for improvement. After all, we share the same mission and objectives.
VA is large and complex:

  • The largest integrated healthcare system in the country ;
  • The largest national cemetery system in the country, and repeatedly recognized as the country’s top performer in customer satisfaction over the past 10 years.
  • The country’s second largest educational assistance program;
  • The only zero-down-payment, guaranteed home loan program in the Nation, with lowest foreclosure rates in all categories of mortgage loans;
  • And, finally, the seventh largest life insurance enterprise in the country—with a 96 percent customer satisfaction rating.

Why is the VA enterprise so large and complex? Why is the federal government providing so much in benefits and services? Simple—because in times past, the men and women who safeguarded our Nation could not acquire or afford these services on their own. No one provided them. So VA was missioned to deliver on the promises of presidents and meet the obligations of the American people.

2010 was a good year for Veterans—the largest presidential budget increase in over 30 years, and the first year of something called “advanced appropriations” for medical care—something unique to VA—a two-year budget process for medical appropriations. Every year, we submit a two-year budget—a continuous budget process.

2011 is our second year of advanced appropriations. While VBA’s and NCA’s 2011 budgets are tied to continuing resolution, VHA is fully funded for the year. Veterans healthcare is assured.
Advanced appropriations also enable us to focus on teaching key behaviors and pursuing key priorities, focusing all our energies and resources to better serve Veterans—six simple rules of thumb. First, three key behaviors: people-centric, results oriented, forward looking.

  • People-centric: We serve Veterans, and in any service oriented activity, people count. VA must be properly trained, properly motivated, have the right attitudes, and enjoy inspiring leadership. Leadership counts.
  • Next, results-oriented: We must be able to measure return on any investments we make. If we don’t have metrics, we won’t invest. Show me the business case for a “go” decision.
  • Finally, forward-looking: We look out five years to envision what VA must look like, in terms of training, equipment, and leadership, in order to serve Veterans better than we serve them today.

Three key behaviors are focused on achieving the following three key priorities:

  • Increase Veteran access to VA benefits and services now;
  • Reduce and ultimately eliminate the disability claims backlog in 2014;
  • End Veterans’ homelessness by 2015.

Three key behaviors and three key priorities—and leadership counts.

Writing good contracts and competing them aggressively gets us best value. Bulking our purchases—gloves, masks, aprons, endoscopes, computers, whatever—gets us best prices and high quality for Veterans. We intend to achieve savings at the end of each budget year.

When that happens, we don’t have to cave to the pressures that come with annual budgeting. This year, we estimate that we will achieve $1.1 billion in savings in VHA. We have taken $600 million of that amount and bought down our 2012 budget requirements. We have taken the remaining $500 million and reinvested it into our 2013 advance appropriations requirement. We intend to save at least another $1 billion in both 2012 and 2013—$3.5 billion over three years.
President Obama’s 2012 budget request seeks $132.2 billion in 2012—$61.9 billion in discretionary funding and $70.3 billion in mandatory funding.

  • Discretionary funding increases by $5.9 billion, or 10.6 percent, over the 2010 enacted budget.
  • Mandatory funding, on the other hand, decreased $969 million, 1.4 percent, below 2010, due to one-time retroactive Agent Orange payments for three new presumptions [ischemic heart disease, Parkinsons’s disease, and hairy cell & other B-cell leukemias].
  • 2013 advanced appropriations for medical care: increases $1.9 billion [$52.75 billion], 3.5 percent, above the 2012 budget.

Over the next two years, we intend to produce the following deliverables:

Access:

In 2008, 7.8 million Veterans were enrolled in VA. In 2012, enrollment is expected to reach 8.6 million Veterans. Access includes outreach, education, construction, and telehealth technologies.

Claims backlog:

In 2009, we produced 977,000 disability claims decisions—and took in over 1 million claims in return. In 2010, we produced a million claims decisions (first time ever) but received 1.2 million claims in return. This year we expect 1.45 million claims submissions.

We have 14,000 claims processors on station. The only way to dominate this kind of growth in numbers is to automate, and quickly. VBA’s 2011 budget sought a 27 percent increase over the 2010 budget. The 2012 budget request is $2 billion, an increase of $330 million or 19.5 percent over 2010 budget. And, as we automate, our goal will be to increase accuracy—84 percent today, 98 percent in 2015.

  • VBMS [Veterans Benefits Management System], our paperless claims system, is being piloted at the Providence Regional Office. Testing will be complete in May 2012. At that point, we will complete its evaluation and begin national deployment of this system.
  • VRM [Veterans Relationship Management]—enhanced access through the e-benefits initiative.

Ending homelessness by 2015:

Two years ago, approximately 131,000 Veterans were homeless on any given night. Today, that estimate is 76,000. We intend to be under 60,000 by June 2012. This constitutes rescue of the most visible homeless Veteran population. We cannot end Veteran homelessness unless we design a prevention piece to our strategy—medical, dental, depression, PTSD, TBI, substance abuse, suicide prevention, Veterans courts, prison re-entry initiatives.

A comprehensive review is underway of VA’s vacant and underutilized buildings to determine options for housing homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families.

The most flexible and responsive housing option remains the HUD-VASH voucher, which we coordinate with Housing and Urban Development.

Employment is key to preventing homelessness. As co-chair of the Council on Veterans Employment with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, we work with every federal agency to increase the level of Veteran employment in the federal government. At VA, 30 percent of our workforce are Veterans. Our goal is to increase this to 40 percent.

Education is also key to preventing homelessness. The new Post 9/11 GI Bill is an enormous asset during this period of economic downturn. 423,000 Veterans and eligible family members are leveraging this option. When you add our other education assistance programs that number goes up over 800,000. The recent expansion of the new Post 9/11 GI Bill provides for vocational training and other non-college degree producing programs, all of which will be fully automated by the end of this year. Through October 2010, VA has issued over $7 billion in payments to participants in the program. It is working.

That’s a quick status report on our programs at the moment. There’s still much to be accomplished, and I look forward to working those priorities with you.