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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs [nid:124]

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this very important hearing today. 

Over the last four years, I have raised serious concerns with the backlog of claims for our veterans.  There are a record number of our service men and women returning home with scars from the war and now is not the time to delay their benefits.

The report released last year by the VA Inspector General focusing on the delay of our service members getting an appointment for a medical exam in order to process their claim for compensation is just another example of how the VA is failing our veterans.

The VA system has many obstacles for our warriors by putting them through numerous medical exams for each individual ailment for which they are filing a claim.  The VA could easily streamline this process and allow the veteran to receive one complete medical exam to expedite the claims process, alleviate the stress on our veterans, and save our veterans and taxpayers money. 

The recent decision issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth v. Shinseki found that veterans have a property interest conferred upon them by the Constitution to both VA benefits and health care.

Ruling for the veteran plaintiffs, the 9th Circuit went a step further to conclude that because these are property interests, delaying access to health care or the adjudication of claims, violates veterans’ due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.  

I agree with this ruling wholeheartedly and am disappointed that the VA has not done more to fix the problem.

We know that on average, every day, 18 veterans commit suicide in this country.  We also know that 1 in 5 service members of our current conflicts will suffer from PTSD and, unfortunately, the suicide rate for these brave men and women is about 1 suicide every 36 hours.  Many of them, as outlined in the ruling, will be left undiagnosed, untreated and uncompensated.  This is a travesty and an outrage.

Last year, the VA Inspector General’s office made recommendations for the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration to collaborate more effectively and share information on issues affecting the timely delivery of exams.  I am disappointed that we are still discussing this issue 15 months after the findings and recommendations.

The VA is not committing sufficient resources to meet the demands of our warriors when they return home.  I hope that VA will address these shortfalls and I expect them to come to the table with a plan to fix the problem.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the testimony this morning.