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Opening Statement of Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Health

Good afternoon and thank you all for being here.

Today, we meet to discuss the role of faith-based and community providers in helping servicemembers, veterans, and their families transition from active-duty to civilian life and the need to foster better communication, education, and collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and these critical community resources.  

The responsibility of each one of us to ‘care for those who have borne the battle’ has never felt so poignant with the brutal toll of a decade of war and a bad economy. 

We continue to hear stories of veterans from past conflicts and our recently returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan struggling to find a home, a job, or a helping hand.  The need to meet these honored heroes where they are and provide them the care, the hope, and the help they earned has never felt so immediate.

As a nation, we are uniquely blessed to live in a country with a rich history of civic pride and responsibility and it is to these communities where our veterans return home, have maintained existing relationships, and, more often than not, where they first turn for help.

While the primary responsibility for caring for our veterans should and does lie with VA, faith-based and community groups are playing an increasingly key role in supporting the varied needs of our servicemembers, veterans, and their families.   They act as a bridge to accessing federal, state, and local programs and services.

Members of the clergy in particular are often the first point of contact with a veteran grappling with the wounds of war.  Data from the VA National Chaplain Center indicates that four out of ten individuals with mental health challenges seek clergy assistance, more than all other mental health providers combined.

We already know that faith-based and community groups can be effective in filling known gaps in VA care and supporting the day-to-day needs of the veteran population.

However, a district symposium I held in my home district of Syracuse, New York, last December, revealed to me a shameful lack of communication, collaboration, and coordination between VA and these critical community resources.  And, subsequently, an urgent need to act to establish meaningful partnerships between VA and nongovernmental organizations.

With more of our servicemembers returning home each day, we cannot afford to let any opportunity to better support our veterans pass us by.

Where partnerships exist, they need to be strengthened. Where they don’t, they need to be fostered. For a veteran or loved one in need, every door should be an open door.

Again, I thank you all for joining us this afternoon. I look forward to a productive and ongoing conversation.