Today, the Social Security Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), held a hearing entitled “Ensuring Social Security Serves America’s Veterans.” The hearing examined the effectiveness of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) initiatives to help our nation’s veterans, including efforts to reduce processing times and expedite claims for certain veterans, as well as hire more veterans.
As Chairman Johnson said at the start of today’s hearing:
“Our veterans serve our country and in return the government should make it easy to access the services and benefits they have earned. This means having a simple and fast process when our veterans apply for Social Security disability benefits. This is especially true for our wounded warriors.
“While there are things that Social Security is getting right there is still room for improvement. And as Chairman and as a 29-year veteran I’m committed as ever to making sure Social Security effectively serves our veterans.”
During the hearing, Subcommittee Members had the opportunity to hear from Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner for the Office of Disability Policy at SSA. Ms. Clemons highlighted SSA initiatives to help our nation’s veterans, including:
- Working “closely with [Department of Defense] and [Department of Veteran Affairs] to identify ways to streamline and expedite processes to support our Service members and Veterans and former service members who sustained injury while on active duty;”
- “[A] variety of outreach measures” to make sure veterans are aware of disability programs that are available to them, such as field office employees visiting “military and VA hospitals across the country;” and
- Efforts by the agency to hire more of our nation’s veterans and wounded warriors “through a number of recruitment efforts. In FY 2017, we participated in 212 recruitment fairs, including 100 held at military bases and Veteran organizations. We maintain a database of Veteran résumés, which facilitates referring highly skilled veteran candidates to hiring officials nationwide for consideration of employment opportunities. … Quite simply, hiring Veterans is a smart practice.”
Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) asked Ms. Clemons how SSA has utilized technology to create a more efficient system for helping veterans receive the disability benefits available to them. She emphasized that the agency’s investment into technology has played a significant role in their work:
“We are trying to optimize the use of health information technology for all individuals, including veterans. … Efficiency is in electronic records. … We have updated our disability policies, bringing our medical listings 93% up to date. … We are advancing our IT modernization just through healthy information exchanges. We have worked across the board to consolidate process systems.”
Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) noted that challenges still exist within SSA, citing that in Missouri the average wait time for a disability hearing is 672 days – over 73 days longer than the national average. At the same time, Congressman Smith emphasized how SSA has made significant progress in hiring America’s veterans and wounded warriors:
“I think almost a third of your employees that you hired are veterans. Your agency puts your boots to the pavement, and you follow through on securing and making sure that veterans are taken care of through the process and also in employees.”
When Chairman Johnson asked if veterans who return to work are required to stay on Medicare or if they have the option to use alternative insurance methods, such as a work-sponsored program, Ms. Clemons said:
“Somebody who has other insurance through their employer has the option often to be on Medicare or not. This is different for our veterans and former military service members as they are required, if eligible for Medicare Part B … to enroll in Medicare Part B to be able to get and receive TRICARE.”
Chairman Johnson emphasized that because veterans are required to stay on Medicare, they often end up paying more for healthcare than they would otherwise through TRICARE, hurting wounded warriors financially as they return to the workforce. The Chairman made note of the HEARTS Act, bipartisan legislation he has introduced which would repeal the requirement for wounded warriors to maintain and pay for Medicare coverage upon returning to work in order to retain access to TRICARE.
Chairman Johnson closed the hearing by emphasizing the great work that SSA has been doing to help our veterans, but noted there is still work to be done to help our veterans receive all the benefits that they deserve:
“Our veterans deserve the best service from our government, including Social Security. As we’ve heard today, Social Security has several ways to speed up Social Security decisions for our veterans, from electronic health records to ensuring Social Security processes veterans claims quickly. Social Security is helping veterans, Social Security is doing a great job hiring our veterans, but there is always more that can be done. And I encourage Social Security to continue to find ways to help our veterans.”
CLICK HERE to learn more about today’s hearing.