Principi Vows To Shake Up Claims System

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Veterans Affairs
Principi Vows To Shake Up Claims System

By Edward Walsh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 2001; Page A28

Declaring that "I do intend to make a difference," Veterans Affairs
Secretary-designate Anthony J. Principi promised yesterday to be a
"passionate advocate" for veterans and to shake up the department's
chronically sluggish claims processing system, which he said has caused many
veterans to lose faith in the agency.

Testifying before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Principi promised
to appoint a task force to follow through on President-elect Bush's pledge
of a "top to bottom" examination of the Veterans Benefits Administration's
(VBA) claims processing system.

"I am not interested in abstract theories of veterans' benefits," he said.
"I want hands-on, practical solutions. I will not want to hear that problems
are intractable because of the language of the law. . . . If I leave this
town with VBA's problems still under study, I will count my tour as a

Principi, 56, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a decorated Vietnam
War veteran, served as deputy secretary and, for a time, acting secretary of
the Department of Veterans Affairs during the White House tenure of Bush's
father, George Bush. Committee members greeted him warmly, indicating that
Principi will have smooth sailing toward confirmation by the full Senate.

But Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman
while Democrats temporarily hold a Senate majority, cautioned Principi that,
because of his experience with veterans issues, "the bar will be set higher
for you."

Principi told the committee that, in addition to tackling the claims
processing system, he will pay special attention to the VA health care
system and the agency's use of information technology. He specifically
endorsed a proposal for the VA and the Defense Department to purchase
medical supplies jointly and estimated that this could save the government
almost $500 million a year.

"We can provide an awful lot of health care to needy veterans with that
money," he said.

Principi also promised to find a solution to the VA's information technology
problems. He said the department in recent years has spent billions of
dollars on new technology to process data, noting: "Frankly, I do not see
improvements proportional to the resources consumed."

Describing his management style, Principi said: "I do not intend to come to
Washington to conduct seminars. I intend to make decisions and to act on
them. Those who know me know that I will be decisive. I will act boldly. But
I will not act impulsively."

Most recently, Principi, a lawyer, was president of QTC Medical Services, a
San Diego-based firm that provides independent medical examinations and
medical administration services. He reported that his salary last year was
$220,670 and that he is also due a $250,000 bonus.

2001 The Washington Post Company

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