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

Thank you, everyone, for coming today.  This is a very important hearing on the future of VA health care in South Louisiana. 

We are here today to explore the challenges faced by VA and other health care facilities to provide high quality, safe health care to veterans and other citizens of this area.

On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border, causing significant destruction to a 90,000 square mile area of the Southeastern United States. 

In the three-state area of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, VA facilities affected included the Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans medical centers; New Orleans regional benefits office; five community based outpatient clinics along the Gulf Coast; and the Biloxi VA National Cemetery. 

The VA’s response to the hurricane and the safety of its patients has been recognized on numerous occasions as being outstanding. 

The hurricane had a major impact on the overall health care delivery system in Southeastern Louisiana and today, nearly two years later, the delivery of health care remains in flux as leaders struggle to come to some agreement on both the best location and the best partnerships to forge in order to provide timely, safe, high-quality health care to veterans and others.

Today, veterans are seen at several different locations.  Through the eight outpatient clinic locations throughout Southeastern Louisiana they are able to receive services that do include mental health care.

Prior to Katrina, the New Orleans VA medical center had a long-standing partnership with Louisiana State University in New Orleans, Tulane University Schools of Medicine, and many allied health profession programs.  It was also a primary teaching facility in the area. 

Congress appropriated $625 million, through two emergency supplemental appropriations, to move forward on building a new facility.  On April 10, 2007, the Committee sent a letter to the Secretary urging VA to make their own decision without further delay.

Today, we will hear from a number of interested stakeholders on the planning and future of VA health care in Southeastern Louisiana.

We should keep in mind that moving ahead expeditiously to provide health care to veterans in the area is a top priority.

Anything less than that, does a disservice to those who have served their country.

Thank you all for attending the hearing today.