Integrated Military, Veteran Support System
December 07, 2012
The secretaries of
Defense and Veterans Affairs are partnering to build an integrated
military and veteran support system, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta
said at a joint DOD-VA press conference at the Veterans Affairs
Department here today.
Calling their departments' collaboration "a national security issue in
many ways," Panetta said the agreements between DOD and VA "go to the
heart of taking care of the people who fight for us, and ensure that we
can recruit the very best force possible."
He added that if service members, veterans and their families are to get
the kind of "seamless experience they deserve," the jobs of the
secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs are to "make clear that
there has got to be good cooperation" at all levels.
"Our close partnership has never been more important than it is today,"
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said of his meeting with
Based on guidance from President Barack Obama, the two departments are
working on a revamped Transition Assistance Program, a joint electronic
medical records system, joint acquisitions decisions, better access to
mental health programs, and disability claims, among other issues, the
"Today, our veterans wait too long for the benefits they deserve and
that's why, together, we're streamlining our processes ... between our
departments," Shinseki said.
Overall, the DOD and VA collaboration for building an integrated support
system is not about turf, but about serving the nation's veterans.
"I'm very encouraged that the level of collaboration between our two
departments is better than it ever has been in the past," Panetta said.
"Yet we still have to reach much deeper," he said. "We owe it to
[service members and veterans] to give them the tools to put their lives
back together and pursue their goals, whether it's getting a good
education, the best health care, excelling in a new career, serving in
our government, or starting a business.
"Today, we discussed a number of steps to try to get our departments to
work together in a further enhanced DOD-VA collaboration," Panetta
continued. "In particular, our discussion focused on a redesigned
Transition Assistance Program. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011
mandated that all service members participate in TAP to prepare them for
life after the military."
Shinseki said his department's support of DOD's revamped TAP, a
presidential initiative, will create a "seamless and productive program
that provides a warm hand-off from service member to new veteran status,
to ensure all who have served are prepared to transition to civilian
life and have access to the VA benefits and services they've earned."
Panetta said the new TAP is progressing well.
"We've got a large number of individuals in the military, and as we
transition in these next few years in terms of our force structure we
will have a lot of people going into this system," the defense secretary
said. "I'm delighted to report we are very satisfied with the
requirements of the VOW Act having been fully tested in terms of
effectiveness at all 206 installations [it] is ready to go. We're on
track to implement additional tracks for service members interested in
education, technical training and entrepreneurship by October 2013."
Disability claims will also become more streamlined as the two
departments work together, Panetta said.
"DOD has agreed in principle to conduct more detailed exit physicals for
departing service members who are not immediately filing a VA disability
claim," he said. "That helps expedite the process so that we don't have
to go far back to their past to try to determine whether that claim is
valid or not."
With this information sharing, VA will have the health information it
needs from DOD to more quickly process a claim, Panetta explained.
"Today, Secretary Shinseki and I agreed to develop a joint DOD-VA plan
for accelerating the program to try to integrate our health care
systems. We want to meet or beat the schedule we've established as
targets," the defense secretary said. "We've asked for the plan to be
presented to us by early January. We've got to do everything we can to
move this on a more expeditious path."
Improved mental health service access is expected to be presented to the
president as a joint recommendation by the two departments by the end of
February 2013, he said.
Panetta expressed his concern over the rate of suicide among military
members and veterans.
"It's a terrible challenge that we are dealing with, and we have got to
do everything we can between DOD and the VA to ensure our systems are
equipped to give our people the help they need to deal with these unique
circumstances," he said.
applauded the work of health care professionals who treat service
members, veterans and families, and also recognized warfighters.
"America's men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every
day to keep this country safe. We owe it to those who fight for us to
fight for them," the defense secretary said. "Programs to help our
warriors were developed out of the best intentions but too often they
fall victim to red tape, bureaucracy and intransigence.
“We, as secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs, deeply believe that
we can and we will do better,” he continued, “and we will accept nothing
less than the best services that we can provide for those who serve this