The two departments are working to “improve support of wounded, ill, and injured service members’ recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration,” England said.
England testified with Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Gordon Mansfield. The two men chair a joint senior oversight committee designed to improve cooperation between the two departments.The effort and committee grew out of revelations last year that processes for America’s wounded warriors were still operating under peacetime conditions. Congressional panels, blue-ribbon commissions and in-house investigations all said the two departments had to work more closely together.
The two departments have significantly improved their cooperation, England said, although more needs to be done.
“Specifically, we have endeavored to improve the disability evaluation system, established a Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, established the Federal Recovery Coordination Program, improved data-sharing between the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, developed housing facility inspection standards and improved delivery of pay and benefits,” he said in prepared testimony for the committee.
DoD and VA are in the process of implementing more than 400 recommendations of five major studies, as well as implementing laws that were part of the fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Act.
England spoke about the disability evaluation system pilot test at the major military hospitals in and around Washington. “The pilot is a servicemember-centric initiative designed to eliminate the often confusing elements of the two current disability processes of our departments,” the deputy secretary said. “Key features include both a single medical examination and single disability rating for use by both departments.”
The goal is to halve the time required for servicemembers to receive benefits.
No servicemembers have completely transitioned via the pilot program to veteran status yet. England said he expects enough servicemembers will have done so by June to enable officials to analyze the process.
The deputy secretary said that the two departments have made improvements in addressing issues concerning psychological health and traumatic brain injury.
“The focus of these efforts has been to create and ensure a comprehensive, effective and individually focused program dedicated to prevention, protection, identification, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and rehabilitation for our service members, veterans, and families who deal with these challenging health conditions,” he said.
DoD and VA have also partnered in the development of standard clinical practice guidelines for post-traumatic stress disorder, and they are working to develop treatments for mild traumatic brain injury, he said.
“Collaboration between VA and DoD gained substantial momentum over the past year, as we partnered to establish a seamless continuum to meet the needs of U.S. wounded, ill and injured servicemembers and their families in transition to continued military service or to veterans,” England said. “Our dedicated, selfless servicemembers, veterans, and their families deserve the very best, and we pledge to give our very best during their recovery, rehabilitation, and return to the society they defend.”