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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 uneventful time for veterans.  The whole world is focused on these 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 all agree with me that all the things that YOU 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. 
  • The Washington Post articles on Walter Reed, as well as all the military and veterans hospitals,
  • The cover story on Newsweek about how veterans are falling through the cracks,
  • An incredibly moving television documentary by ABC reporter Bob Woodruff, and not only what he experienced but what is going on with others suffering from brain injury. 
  • When you are trained for combat, you expect certain challenges and tests of your character.  This is OUR test as a nation, this is OUR test as a people, this is OUR test as a Congress and we had better, with your help, meet those challenges. 
  • ·       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, and WE have to focus on those problems because WE owe it to you.  We made a contract with our veterans that WE would take care of you, and WE are not fulfilling that contract.
  • A recent headline in the Washington Post: “Government Prepares for New Wave of Homeless Vets.”  Why in the hell are we preparing for homeless vets?  We should be making sure there are no homeless vets. 
  • I was out in San Diego with Secretary Nicholson at Veterans Village.  The Secretary said we are going to put more money, a couple hundred million, into homeless veteran’s initiatives.  That’s great...BUT, We still have a lot more work to do. 
  • The stand-down was invented in San Diego and I was at the very first one.  You know what … I am sick of stand-downs!  For three days, we get all the community working together.  We get those vets off the street; provide security, food, legal help, medical care and job counseling.  Why aren’t we doing that 365 days a year?  Why only the 3 days?  That is what the VA is for - to be an advocate and solve these problems. 
  • The president gave us a budget for VA this year.  It was more than last year.  And, We are going to plus it up even more!  The resources that we need are just not the budget being approved by this Congress or submitted by the President.  The cost of treating our veterans is a cost of war.  If WE can pay for the war…then WE must pay for the warrior.
  • We need to provide everything we can to the men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The president gave us a $95 billion supplemental bill for our active duty troops.  We need a supplemental bill not just for the war, but for the warriors.  We are going to try to do that this year. 
  • 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.   
  • I have asked this Congress, if you can provide $95 billion for the war, provide $5 billion more for the warriors. 
  • PTSD is real.  The community has to know.  I have asked for $3 billion in the supplemental 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.  I am asking for $1 billion for TBI.
  • A 6000,000 backlog claims is a disgrace.  My supplemental request asks for at least a half million dollars to hire over 1,000 new people to get this down to zero.  The claims process must be addressed and fixed, now and forever.
  • We have to past this test as a nation.  This is something that we have agreed to do: to treat the people that we have asked to defend us with the utmost respect and love and care.
  • When you go home, you can do a lot to educate the public:
  • 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 do this now.  We’ve got work to do.  Let’s do it!

Thank you!  Mister Chairman, I yield back.