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Opening Statement of Dr. Benishek, Chairman, Subcommittee on Health

Good morning. I want to begin by thanking all of those in attendance today for joining us at the first Subcommittee on Health oversight hearing of the 113h Congress.  

    I am honored to have been selected to serve as Chairman of this important Subcommittee and I am pleased that Julia Brownley of California has been selected to serve as Ranking Member.

     I look forward to working with her and the many new and returning Members of the Subcommittee individually and collectively to improve and protect the health of our honored veterans.

    Having served on this Subcommittee before, I know that each of us shares an immense respect and deep admiration for the service and sacrifices of America’s veterans.   

    My goal as Chairman, in part, is:

(1) to ensure that when a veteran accesses healthcare through VA, he or she is met with timely, consistent, high quality care and services and is unburdened by lengthy wait times or unnecessary travel requirements; and,

(2) to keep the dollars we spend on VA  health care close to the bedsides of our veteran patients - that is to say, to prioritize patient care above administrative costs and bureaucratic overhead that serve the Department more than it serves our veterans.

    I was proud to serve for twenty years as a part-time physician at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center in my hometown of Iron Mountain, Michigan.

    In that capacity, I cared for my veteran neighbors every day and, in the course of that care, I got to know them, to talk to them, and to learn from them about the many challenges and frustrations they face accessing health care through VA.  

    As a Congressman, I have made it a priority to continue these conversations with my veteran constituents and I can tell you that – unfortunately – their experiences at VA haven’t changed for the better.

    There are many examples I could provide – examples of veterans seeing a different doctor every time they go to VA for an appointment and examples of veterans from my district being told to travel hundreds of miles from our home in Northern Michigan to the VA medical centers in Milwaukee or Detroit because local doctors can no longer provide needed services in our community.    

    I am convinced that these problems are rooted at least partly in the issue we will discuss today – the persistent lack of staffing standards at VA medical facilities.

    On December 27, 2012, the VA Inspector General issued an audit of physician staffing levels for specialty care services.

    The IG found that VA did not have effective staffing methodology to ensure that appropriate staff is in place to treat veteran patients at VA medical facilities across the country.

    Since 1981, no less than eight audits and reports have been issued by either the VA Inspector General or the Government Accountability Office that have recommended VA develop and implement productivity standards and staffing measures to more effectively meet patient demand.

    32 years later, alarmingly little progress has been made and our veterans are the ones who suffer for it.
    
    That is unacceptable to those of us on this side of the dais and it should be unacceptable to those on that side of the dais as well.
    
    Today, I don’t want to hear excuses. I want to hear solutions.

    I thank you all for joining us this morning.