In accordance with clause 2(d)(1) of Rule X of the House of Representatives, the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on January 30, 2007, adopted its oversight plan for the 110th Congress. 

This oversight plan is directed at those matters most in need of oversight during the duration of this Congress.  The Committee is cognizant that its oversight plans for the 110th Congress “have a view toward assuring effective, fact-based management.”  The Committee will consult, as necessary, with other House Committees having jurisdiction over the same or related laws affecting veterans.

Oversight will be accomplished through committee and subcommittee hearings, field and site visits by Members and staff, review of documentation, and meetings and correspondence with interested parties.  Methods of oversight will include existing and requested reports, studies, estimates, investigations and audits by the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Offices of the Inspectors General of the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor. 

The Committee will seek the views of veterans’ service organizations, military associations, other interest groups and private citizens.  The Committee also welcomes communications from any individuals and organizations desiring to bring matters to its attention. 

While this oversight plan describes the foreseeable areas in which the Committee expects to conduct oversight during the 110th Congress, the Committee and its subcommittees will undertake additional oversight activities as the need arises.

The full Committee may, at the discretion of the Chairman, after consultation with the Ranking Republican Member, conduct any of the oversight activities planned by the subcommittees. 

Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

1.  Review of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claim process.  The Subcommittee plans to take a wholesale look at the VA disability claim process from the initial filing through the judiciary stage.  This includes, but is not limited to, inter-governmental cooperation, training of claims adjudicators, uniformity of ratings, operation of the Board of Veterans Appeals and decisions handed down by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.  The Subcommittee will give special consideration to disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

2.  Examination of the Nonservice-Connected Pension Program.  The Subcommittee plans to examine whether this pension program is benefiting those who need it most.  In addition, this Subcommittee will look to see if it is appropriate to expand the pension program to include veterans who may have been previously omitted and the pay-go costs associated with any expansion.

3.  Outreach.  The Subcommittee plans to take a close look at the outreach efforts conducted by the VA to ensure that every eligible veteran, surviving spouse or other candidate for assistance is aware of the benefits available to him or her.  Furthermore, the Subcommittee will examine whether the rules and pay-go costs regarding veteran eligibility need to be expanded.

4.  Maintenance, Appearance, and Upkeep of National Cemeteries. The Subcommittee will examine the immediate and long-term needs of the national cemetery system including the need for additional VA national cemeteries or national cemetery annexes.   The Subcommittee will also review the condition of VA national cemeteries, both open and closed, to determine if their condition befits their status as national shrines to veterans.

5.  Insurance.  The Subcommittee will examine all of the insurance programs under the jurisdiction of the VA to ensure that they are providing the proper level of indemnification.  In addition, the Subcommittee will examine the overall operation of these insurance programs.

6.  Burial Benefits.  The Subcommittee will look at the burial benefits provided by the VA to see if they are properly functioning and/or need to be expanded.

7.  Information Technology – The Subcommittee will review current information technology programs related to the business lines under the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction with a focus on VETSNET.  The Subcommittee will also explore the applicability of rules-based applications to further automate adjudication of disability claims.

8.  Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission.  Public Law 108-136 established the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission.  The commission will examine and make recommendations concerning, among other things, the appropriateness of the level of benefits and the appropriateness of the level of benefits and the appropriate standard of standards for determining whether a disability or death of a veteran should be compensated.  The Committee will review the recommendations of the Commission through briefings and hearings.

Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities

1.  Employment and self-employment opportunities for veterans – The Subcommittee plans to conduct hearings to highlight servicemembers and veterans as a desirable business asset, with a focus on recently separated servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including demobilizing Reserve and National Guard personnel. 

2.  Department of Labor workforce and transition services – Public Law 107-288, the Jobs for Veterans Act, improved and modernized the Department of Labor’s veterans’ employment and training services, including providing veterans “first-in-line” priority in all DOL funded employment and training programs.  Public Law 108-183 requires DOL to furnish pre-separation job placement services to servicemembers serving overseas.  Public Law 109-461 modified and reorganized the Veterans Employment, Training and Employer Outreach Advisory Committee within the Department of Labor and the Subcommittee will examine the progress and effectiveness related to the Advisory Committee as well.

3.  State Approving Agencies – Veterans may only receive GI Bill benefits while attending a VA-approved course of instruction.  VA contracts with state education agencies to approve and monitor education and training programs to ensure they meet the needs of veterans.  The state agencies also provide local resources to investigate alleged violations of VA education regulations as well as a wide range of oversight functions on behalf of VA.  Funding for the SAAs is scheduled to be decreased at the end of fiscal year 2008.  The Subcommittee will explore the affects of any potential decrease in SAA funding and possible alternative to current funding schemes.

4.  Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment – VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program provides services and assistance to enable veterans with service-connected disabilities to obtain and maintain suitable employment, and to enable certain other disabled veterans to achieve independence in daily living.  The Subcommittee will examine VR&E’s recent efforts to implement its 5-track program throughout the 57 regional offices.  In addition the Subcommittee will likely focus on areas such as suitable employment including self employment assistance to the most seriously disabled veterans, contracted services, claims processing, employer outreach and quality assurance. 

5.  Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides a broad range of employment rights and responsibilities for veterans and employers.  The law was recently amended to establish a demonstration project for improved enforcement by the Federal government.  The Subcommittee will assess the effectiveness of USERRA with special emphasis on employers’ willingness to hire National Guard and Reserve members and employment-related issues related to returning to the workforce following activation. 

6.  Transition Assistance to Demobilizing Reserve and National Guard Personnel – Due to the increased utilization of the Selected Reserve since September 11, 2001, many more citizen soldiers are being activated and serving on active duty.  Consequently, as the Reserve and National Guard forces demobilize after their activation period, they like active duty troops require period of readjustment and transition services.  The Subcommittee will continue to examine and focus its efforts to ensure that Selected Reserve personnel receive the assistance and benefits they may need to successfully transition into civilian workforce and lifestyle.

7.  VA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business/Center for Veterans Enterprise – Public Law 109-461 required the VA to set and meet certain procurement goals with respect to veteran and service-disabled veteran owned small businesses.  The Subcommittee will examine VA’s efforts to effectively implement this law and improve its contracting efforts with such concerns.

8.  GI Bill – Congress, other than providing benefit increases, has not comprehensively modified, modernized or updated the Montgomery G.I. Bill since 1985.  Due to advances in technology, dynamic workforce changes, and ever increasing demands on servicemembers, as well as military recruiting efforts the time is right to seriously review the MGIB.  The Subcommittee may hold a series of hearings to provide a comprehensive review of the program and to ascertain whether the current veterans’ education system is adequate and reflects the way current society learns, studies and trains for success.  The Subcommittee will also explore the effectiveness of various possible improvements as a means to increase the use of education benefits, as well as improving recruiting and retention in the armed forces.

9.  Information Technology - VBA currently uses several information technology applications to assist administration of its education and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.  Despite this basic level of automation, significant backlogs persist.  The Subcommittee will asses opportunities to increase the ability of rules-based systems to improve administration and decrease the backlogs.

Subcommittee on Health

1.  Provision of VA Health Care – The Subcommittee will examine the manner in which VA provides care to veterans, and ways in which the VA’s health care delivery can be improved. The Subcommittee plans to examine how technology can improve the delivery of health care, especially to rural and under-served veterans.  The Subcommittee plans to explore the current efforts of the VA in meeting the health care needs of veterans’ including quality of care and access issues, as well as how the VA can improve in the future.  The Subcommittee also plans on conducting oversight over the VA’s Project HERO (“Healthcare Effectiveness through Resource Optimization”) initiative, as well as VA’s current contract care practices.

2.  Health Care Personnel – The Subcommittee plans on evaluating VA’s current efforts to recruit and retain nurses, physicians, dentists, and other health care professionals.  The Subcommittee plans on examining how best to ensure that VA personnel meet the health care needs of our veterans.  The Subcommittee will explore innovative measures VA medical centers may use to attract and retain nursing personnel and support quality patient care, including the Magnet Recognition Program.

3.  VA Medical and Prosthetic Research – The Subcommittee plans on examining the effectiveness of the VA’s current research endeavors, how they match up with Congressional intent in regards to addressing injuries and illnesses in the veterans’ population, and the importance of VA’s clinical research efforts.  The Subcommittee also plans on looking at such issues as the role of intellectual property in the research effort and the function and effectiveness of VA’s research corporations.

4.  Prosthetics and specialized services – The Subcommittee plans to examine VA’s specialized services, such as blind rehabilitation, spinal cord injury, and prosthetics, including ways to improve these services and ways the VA can meet Congressional intent in these areas.

5.  Women veterans’ programs – With increasing numbers of women veterans, the Subcommittee will examine VA’s provision of health care services to women, and whether there are improvements that must be made.

6.  Long-term care – The Subcommittee plans to examine the current state of VA’s long-term care programs, and explore ways to improve and augment the VA’s efforts in this area, including issues relating to state veterans homes and contract community homes.

7.  CARES, VA Construction, and Facilities Management – The Subcommittee plans on reviewing the current state of the VA’s construction programs, including major and minor construction, facilities management efforts, and capital asset plans.  Also of interest to the Subcommittee is the VA’s historic preservation, and enhanced use lease endeavors.  The Subcommittee also plans to continue monitoring the VA’s collaborative efforts with other governmental and non-profit health care entities.

8.  VA Funding – The Subcommittee plans to examine the adequacy of VA funding, and ways to improve the current funding system.  The Subcommittee is interested in examining the efficacy of, and improvements to, the VA’s financial controls and systems, in order to better stretch scarce health care resources.  The Subcommittee plans on examining the Medical Care Collections Fund (MCCF).  The Subcommittee plans to examine the VA’s use of “management efficiencies,” and other budget items that may serve to depress the Administration’s annual budget requests, as well as looking at the VA’s ability to budget for returning servicemembers and account for the long-term costs of these new veterans. 

9.  PTSD and Mental Health Issues – The Subcommittee plans to examine the VA’s current efforts in the area of mental health and post-traumatic-stress-syndrome (PTSD) as they relate to returning servicemembers and veterans of previous conflicts.

10.  Traumatic Brain Injury and VA Polytrauma Centers – The Subcommittee plans on examining the efforts of the VA in diagnosing and treating Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as the operation of the VA’s Polytrauma Centers.  Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have shown a marked increase in TBI.  The Subcommittee wants to ensure that the VA is doing all it can in this area.

11.  Homelessness – The Subcommittee plans to review the VA’s current efforts to combat homelessness amongst veterans, and examine ways to improve services to homeless veterans.

12.  VA/DOD Cooperation – The Subcommittee plans to examine how the VA and DOD health care systems can best work together to provide health care services to veterans.  The Subcommittee plans to look into progress the agencies have made in ensuring that health information is shared, including electronic medical records, and other ways in which both agencies can improve services to returning servicemembers and veterans.

13.  VA’s Fourth Mission – The VA has an important role to play outside of the direct provision of health care to veterans.  The Subcommittee plans to examine the VA’s readiness to accomplish its fourth mission – to serve as backup to the Department of Defense health care system in times of war or other emergencies and to support communities following domestic terrorist incidents and natural disasters.  The Subcommittee seeks to be assured that the VA has devoted adequate resources for its fourth mission contingencies and that the VA’s fourth mission duties do not detract from its first mission of caring for veterans.

Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations 

1. Competitive Sourcing and Alternative Management Systems – The VA is implementing the President’s Management Agenda and Office of Management and Budget Directives through competitive sourcing and alternative management systems.  The Subcommittee is interested in the factual basis for conduct of this program and the organizational benefits yielded.

2. VA’s Procurement and Acquisition System – the Subcommittee will continue to monitor the performance of this system to determine its efficiency and effectiveness.  VA spends over $6 billion annually for medical and surgical supplies, prosthetics, information technology, construction and other materials and services. 

3.  VA Information Technology Programs – VA has had problems fielding integrated information technology systems.  The Subcommittee continues oversight of VA’s progress.

4.  VA Information Security Management Program – the loss of computer hardware containing the personal information of millions of veterans enhanced awareness of ongoing problems with VA’s information security program.  The Subcommittee has ongoing interest in the effectiveness of the program.

5. VA’s Fourth Mission – Are they ready? – VA has a role in this nation’s response to certain types of large scale incidents, whether natural or man-made.  VA must maintain the capacity to meet its responsibilities under the National Response Plan and provide for its continuity of operations.

6.  Force Protection and Seamless Transition – the Subcommittee will oversee DoD and VA efforts to assure that the transition between the two departments is seamless and responsive to the needs of veterans.  The Subcommittee review will include DoD’s referral of discharged Guard and Reeserve personnel to VA’s dental program for their follow-up dental care.

7.  Enhanced Land Leases and Divestment of Federal Property – VA has used expanded authorizations to engage in enhanced-use leases of its property and on occasion divests federally-owned property.  The Subcommittee will assure that the decision process for these actions is sound and that revenues received and other benefits are appropriate.  Also of interest to the Subcommittee is the VA’s preservation of historic landmarks and buildings and the appropriate disposition of unused, unkempt, or hazardous facilities and properties. 

8.  Evaluating Management Efficiency-based Budget Offsets – This Committee and the Government Accountability Office have been critical of the VA’s practice of offsetting budget requirements with claimed management efficiencies.  Subcommittee interest in this issue is ongoing.

9.  Chemical, Radiological, Biological and other Test Veterans issues – Since WWII, servicemembers have participated in tests with potentially harmful agents, to determine warfighting capability and the utility of protective equipment.  The committee will assure that veterans who participated in these tests receive appropriate care for medical problems caused by the testing.

10.  Medical Recruitment, Retention and Staffing – to include nursing and certain medical specialties, pay and bonus issues, title 5/38 issues, and employment conditions – Are the human resource needs of VA being met effectively?

11.  Human Subjects Protection – Previous problems in the area of human testing led the committee to strengthen human subject protections.  The Subcommittee will review this matter to assure the protections in place are working.

12.  Laboratory and Clinical select agent security – VA Level 3 Laboratories and all VA Medical Centers are host to various chemical, biological and radiological agents.  Are these agents secure?

13.  VA Inspector General – Budget and Performance – The Subcommittee will examine the budget of the VA Inspector General (IG) and review how VA uses the recommendations of the IG to increase efficiency and effectiveness in providing services to veterans.

14.  Veterans Preference in Federal Hiring –Categorical Ranking Systems – Veterans have complained that Federal Veterans Preference is not working.  The Office of Personnel Management has implemented an alternative personnel system to enlarge selection pools of applicants.  Is Veterans Preference lost in this process?

15.  Small Business Contracting Goals for Service Connected Disabled Business Owners. – The federal government has a poor result in assuring that small business contracting goals with service-connected disabled veteran small business owners are being met.  The Subcommittee will explore the root cause for this underachievement.

16.  Electronic Medical Records. – Electronic medical record keeping offers a number of potential benefits.  Implementing and integrating bi-directional electronic medical records should result in savings, added security, and safety.  The Subcommittee will review the results of VA’s efforts in this area.

17.  Medical Care Collections Fund – The Subcommittee will conduct oversight on VA collection efforts.

18.  VA/DOD Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program – this would implement a type of one-stop-shopping for servicemembers separating from the service.  The Subcommittee will review and assess progress.

19.  EEO Complaint Resolution System – Problems in the 1990’s led to significant changes.  New changes are being crafted by VA.  The Subcommittee will conduct oversight to determine if these changes have the impact Congress intended.

20.  Worker’s Compensation Program – VA is evaluating the performance of this program. The Subcommittee will also review the program and recent program changes for effectiveness and adverse impact.

21.  Credentialing and Screening of VA Employees – the Subcommittee will review the portfolio of background checks and reviews that involve current and potential VA employees with the goal of assuring that veterans and coworkers are safe.

22.  VA Reporting Requirements – VA reports to Congress and to the Committees to meet a variety of requirements.  The Subcommittee will determine if it is possible to streamline or consolidate any of these requirements?

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