Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary-nominee Eric Shinseki on Wednesday during a Senate confirmation hearing said that he would address delays in disability claims processed by the department and improve the delivery of services to veterans, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Jalonick, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/15). During the hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Shinseki also said that he would address issues with the transfer of medical and other records from the Department of Defense to VA.

VA must become a "21st-century organization" that can meet the needs of veterans with a number of illnesses and injuries, he said, adding, "Asking [them] to take a number and wait or put up with records that are lost or take six months to adjudicate is not part of the culture I expect" (Scott Tyson, Washington Post, 1/15). Shinseki said, "The frustrating lack of timeliness, and the challenges of coordinating (the DOD's) and VA's systems, are some of the areas that must be addressed quickly" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/15).

Shinseki also cited the need to improve efforts to identify and treat veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with mild traumatic brain injury or psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, although he did not discuss specific details (Zoroya, USA Today, 1/15). In addition, he cited the need for improved access to health care for veterans who live in rural areas (Washington Post, 1/15). Shinseki added that he supports proposals to pass both the fiscal year 2010 and FY 2011 appropriations bills for VA next year (Johnson, CQ Today, 1/14).

'Priority 8' Veterans
Shinseki said that he would seek to restore access to the VA health care system for middle-income veterans who do not have service-related disabilities, USA Today reports (USA Today, 1/15). Under a 2003 regulation, "Priority 8" veterans -- those who do not have service-related disabilities and have annual incomes higher than about $30,000 -- cannot enroll in the system. The enrollment of Priority 8 veterans would more than double the total number of veterans in the system.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked Shinseki about his plans to enroll Priority 8 veterans in the system, adding, "To move twice as many people into the system is going to be more demanding on the taxpayers than I think some people realize." Shinseki said that he would have to study the issue and examine the effects on the VA budget before he could provide specific plans (CQ Today, 1/14).

According to the New York Times, the committee "showered" Shinseki with praise, and his confirmation "is all but certain" (Shanker, New York Times, 1/15). Committee Chair Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said that he expects the full Senate to vote on the Shinseki nomination by next Tuesday (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/15).

Veterans groups also expressed support for Shinseki. Bob Wallace, executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, "I think if he gets the right people around him, with his leadership ability and his years of experience and years of being honest and truthful -- I think it will be very good for the department." Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, "He's got a lot of learning to do," adding, "He's got to really focus on bringing in those types of people who can break a bureaucracy down and really reorganize it" (USA Today, 1/15).

House Member Responds to EHR Software Glitches at VA
In related news, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs ranking member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) on Wednesday called for an explanation into the cause of software glitches in the electronic health records system at several VA health care facilities, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. A recent Associated Press investigation found that such glitches exposed some veterans to medical errors, such as incorrect doses of medications or delays in needed treatments.

Buyer said, "I am deeply concerned about the consequences on patient care that could have resulted from this 'software glitch' and that mistakes were not disclosed to patients who were directly affected." He added, "I have asked for a forensic analysis of all pertinent records to determine if any veterans were harmed, and I would like to know who was responsible for the testing and authorized the release of the new application" (Yen, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1/15).

Broadcast Coverage
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on the confirmation hearing for Shinseki. The segment includes comments from retired Army Gen. Bob Scales and Rieckhoff (Kelly, "All Things Considered," NPR, 1/15).

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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