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

Thank you to Senator Akaka.

  • Welcome to Capitol Hill.  Thank you for coming to Washington at a very eventful time for veterans.  The whole world is focused on veteran’s issues, so obviously you are here at a perfect time. 
  • The first thing I did with Senator Akaka was reinstitute the joint hearings for your participation.  I think it is important for us to hear directly from you and have your membership see what is going on in DC. 
  • I think you will agree with me: all the things that YOU AS VETERANS have been telling us as a nation, as a Congress, for years and years, if not decades, are finally being understood by the American people. 
  • Walter Reed in the Washington Post, Newsweek, Bob Woodruff got the attention of Americans about the plight of our veterans.
  • This is OUR test as a nation, as a people, as a Congress. 
  • There are some very fine things going on in the VA:
  • high quality medical care
  • developments in prosthetic devices
  • research in spinal cord injury
  • very dedicated people that we have asked to do more and more over the last decade with less and less
  • However, there are significant systemic problems.
  • PTSD is real.  We need to:  
  • Fund research
  • Fund outreach
  • Educate community: employers
  • Educate returning military
  • Educate children of returning vets
  • Traumatic Brain Injury – TBI is being called the signature wound of the war.  Funds are needed for treatment as well as research. 
  • A 600,000 backlog of claims is a disgrace.  We need to hire over 1,000 new people to get this down to zero.  The claims process must be addressed and fixed, now and forever.
  • You know, President Washington got it right over 200 years ago.  He said, “The most important factor in the morale of fighting troops is the sense of how they are going to be treated when they come home.”  This is OUR test.  If we are going to help the active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have to help their comrades who came home from Korea, Vietnam, and WWII.   
  • WE ARE PASSING THE TEST!  Democrats have demonstrated unwavering support for our nation’s veterans by working for the largest annual increase in VA health care spending in 77 years.  As a Congress we have decided to treat the people that we have asked to defend us with the utmost respect, love, dignity and care they deserve.
  • In February, we passed a Continuing Resolution that included $3.6 billion above the 2006 baseline.  Then, last week the House passed a fiscal year 2007 Supplemental Appropriations Act that included $1.7 billion for key veterans programs, demonstrating that Democrats recognize veterans’ health care is a cost of war.
  • Today, the House will consider the fiscal year 2008 Budget Resolution, passed last week by the House Budget Committee.  This budget dramatically increases discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Increases Veterans Funding to $43.1 billion for 2008

  • Provides $43.1 billion for 2008, or $6.6 billion (18.1 percent) more than 2007
  •  $3.5 billion increase (8.9%) over the Administration request for FY08

Rejects Fee Increases for Veterans’ Health Care

  • Saves veterans from paying increased fees totaling $355 million in 2008 and $2.3 billion over five years. 
  • The Congress has rejected these fee increases four years in a row.

Provides for Mental Health and Traumatic Injuries

  • Increases funding to research and treat mental health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

Provides for Disability Claims Processing

  • Increases funding to improve the speed and accuracy of disability claims processing and reduce the backlog of pending claims. 
  • We understand that this is just the beginning of paying down the tremendous debt that we owe to our veterans.  We understand…that as a nation…we must live up to the promises we made.
  • I ask your continued support in helping to educate the public and this congress on these important issues:
  •  80% of the Congress has not had military service and WE want to be educated.
  • Go to your local community groups, churches, editorial boards, talk shows, write letters to the editor. 
  • Talk about the necessity of this nation to treat its veterans the way we promised we would.
  • We have to continue to do this.  We’ve still have alot of work to do.  With your continued help and support…We will continue to pass the test!  Let’s do it!

Thank you!  Mr. Chairman, I yield back.