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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

On March 6, 2007, the President signed an Executive Order to establish the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. 

The Commission was charged with the task of examining the effectiveness of returning wounded servicemembers’ transition from deployment in support of the Global War on Terror to returning to productive military service or civilian society, and recommend needed improvements.

The Report of the Commission was recently released and today the Committee will be hearing from the co-chairs of that Commission –Secretary Donna Shalala and Senator Bob Dole.  I look forward to a frank and open discussion of the recommendations made by the Commission. 

According to the report, there have been 1.5 million service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  28,000 have been wounded in action, with 3,082 of those seriously injured.  The nature of the injuries sustained on today’s battlefield is very complex and resource-intensive.  Because of the advancements in battlefield medicine, protective gear and technology, the rate of survival is much greater than that of past wars. 

My concerns are focused on how we serve our troops when they turn from the Pentagon to the VA for their health care.  In order for our troops to experience the seamless transition they deserve, the bureaucratic problems that prevent many from getting the care they need must be fixed.

While VA and DoD have made adjustments and changes over the last few years in an attempt to address the issues surrounding the treatment of these injuries, as well as the transitioning of severely wounded servicemembers, many obstacles remain.

As Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am sensitive to the difficulties involved in coordinating the activities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  These Departments do indeed have different missions. 

That being said, we no longer have the luxury of time, and we, as a country must act.

Right now, while we prepare to discuss this issue, our servicemembers are in harm’s way.  Some of these brave men and women will be killed or wounded.  We have talked about the necessity of providing a seamless transition for many years.  This is our test as a nation.  And this is a test we simply must pass. 

I would like to welcome our two distinguished panelists this morning. 

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Donna Shalala as the  Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) where she served for eight years, becoming the longest serving HHS Secretary in our history.  As HHS Secretary, she directed the welfare reform process, made health insurance available to an estimated 3.3 million children, raised child immunization rates to the highest levels in history, led major reforms of the FDA’s drug approval process and food safety system, revitalized the National Institutes of Health, and directed a major management and policy reform of Medicare. 

Secretary Shalala has dealt with large bureaucracies like the VA and DoD before and she is experienced in implementing programs that work for the people…not against the people.

Senator Dole knows all too well the problems that our brave men and women face as they deal with the painful injuries of war.  Senator Dole was twice decorated for heroism, receiving two Purple Hearts for his injuries, and the Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" for valor.  In 1942, he joined the United States Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps to fight in World War II and became a second lieutenant in the Army's 10th Mountain Division.  In April of 1945, while engaged in combat in the hills of northern Italy, he was hit by German machine gun fire in his upper right back and badly injured. He had to wait nine hours on the battlefield before being taken to the 15th Evacuation Hospital before he began his recovery at a U.S. Army hospital in Michigan.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you both for your service to our country and your dedication to our nation’s veterans.  We are all grateful for the work that you do.