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Opening Statement of The Honorable Dan Benishek M.D., Chairman, Subcommittee on Health, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

            Good morning and thank you all for joining us today to discuss pending legislation regarding the health care benefits and services provided to our nation’s veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The ten bills we will discuss this morning are:

- H.R. 183, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act;

- H.R. 2527, to provide veterans with counseling and treatment for sexual trauma that occurred during inactive duty training;

- H.R. 2661, the Veterans Access to Timely Medical Appointments Act;

- H.R. 2974, to provide beneficiary travel eligibility for veterans seeking treatment or care for military sexual trauma;

- H.R. 3387, the Classified Veterans Access to Care Act;

- H.R. 3508, to clarify the qualifications of VA hearing aid specialists;

- H.R. 3180, to provide an exception to the requirement that the Federal Government recover a portion of the value of certain projects;

- H.R. 3831, the Veterans Dialysis Pilot Program Review Act;

- H.R. 4198, the Appropriate Care for Disabled Veterans Act; and,

- Draft legislation, to authorize VA major medical facility projects for fiscal year 2014.

By and large, these ten bills aim to address two of this Subcommittee’s highest priorities – (1) ensuring that our veterans have access to the care that they need; and, (2) ensuring that VA is held accountable when that care fails to meet the high standards that it should.

Some of these bills – such as H.R. 2527 and H.R. 2974, which aim to resolve gaps in care for veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma - address issues that have been raised through Subcommittee oversight.

Others – such as H.R. 2661, H.R. 3508, and H.R. 3831, which concern lengthy patient waiting times, access to care for hearing-impaired veterans, and ongoing issues with the provision of dialysis care – address issues that were raised through external stakeholder reviews by the VA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office.

Still others – such as H.R. 183 and H.R. 4198, which concern the need for innovative treatment options for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and the need to ensure that VA maintains adequate capacity to provide for the unique health care needs of disabled veterans – address issues that were raised by our veteran constituents and veterans service organizations.

One other – the draft legislation to authorize VA major medical facility projects for fiscal year (FY) 2014 and, of note, authorize the construction of a new bed tower at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida – is the Department’s own legislative request.

I would note that VA’s FY 2015 budget submission includes five additional lease authorization requests that are not included in the draft bill we will discuss this morning.

While I recognize the value of those five lease authorization requests – which would certainly be included in future VA major medical facility lease authorization packages moving through the Committee -  I felt it was important to thoroughly analyze and receive stakeholder views on the Department’s FY 2014 request.

As you may know, last fall the House passed H.R. 3521, the Department of Veterans Affairs Major Medical Facility Lease Authorization Act of 2013, which would authorize 27 VA major medical facility leases requested by the Department in the FY 2014 budget submission.

It is my sincere hope that H.R. 3521 will be passed through the Senate and quickly signed into law.

I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues who have sponsored the legislation on our agenda today and who are joining us this morning to discuss their proposals.

            I would also like to thank our witnesses from the Disabled Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as the witnesses from the VA for their leadership and advocacy on behalf of our veterans and for being here today to offer their views.

            It is critical that we have a thorough understanding of the benefits and consequences of each of these bills before moving forward in the legislative process and, as such, I look forward to a detailed and comprehensive conversation.