Principi Looks at Veterans Benefits

From: "Bruce K. Melson" <>


Principi Looks at Veterans Benefits

Updated 4:18 AM ET January 19, 2001
By JANELLE CARTER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Veterans Affairs Secretary-designate Anthony Principi
pledged to improve veterans' benefits and health care as lawmakers predicted
his certain approval to head the agency.

"When you are confirmed - and in my judgment you should be and will be - our
nation's veterans will depend on you," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller,
D-W.Va., serving as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee until
Republicans return to the majority Saturday.

President-elect Bush's nominee to run the nation's veterans programs assured
the committee at his Thursday confirmation hearing, "If I can make a
difference for America's veterans, then my rewards will far outweigh any
sacrifice I may make."

"And I do intend to make a difference," he said.

Principi said he planned to create a task force and conduct a complete
review of the often slow and cumbersome veterans' benefits system.

"It may be necessary for VA to declare its own war on claims processing,"
said Principi, a deputy secretary in the department during the presidency of
Bush's father and a former counsel to the Senate committee holding the

"I am not interested in abstract theories of veterans benefits," Principi
said. "I want hands-on practical solutions. I will not want to hear that
problems are intractable because of the language of the law."

Principi comes to the agency at a time when many veterans are questioning
the benefits system.

An Associated Press analysis last year found that despite spending more than
$200 million to upgrade its computers, the Veterans Benefits
Administration - which distributes compensation for 3.2 million veterans and
their survivors - takes longer to process claims than it did a decade ago.

According to the review, it takes an average of 205 days to complete an
original disability claim, compared with 164 in 1991.

Principi also expressed support for a proposal that the Defense Department
and Veterans Affairs join forces in some procurement efforts, including
medicine purchases. Both departments have expressed concern and a government
study last year found that rivalries between the two hindered such efforts.

He also promised to address concerns with the veterans' health care system,
which is the nation's largest with its 139 hospitals serving 3.5 million
veterans annually.

The system has been dogged by criticism dating back at least two decades,
when a congressionally mandated study found that the quality of care was
often poor.

"I believe that, overall, the Veterans Health Administration does provide
high quality health care. But quality health care requires constant
attention at every level within the department. I will keep my eye on that
ball," Principi said.

In Vietnam, Principi was assigned to river patrol along the Mekong Delta. He
earned several decorations for his tour, including a Bronze Star and the
Navy Combat Action medal.

Principi's family also has strong military ties. His father, Anthony, signed
up for submarine duty in World War II after immigrating to the United States
from Argentina. His wife of 30 years, Elizabeth, was a nurse in Vietnam. Two
of his three sons are in the Air Force.


"When the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass
through"  'I Ching'