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Opening Statement of Hon. Gus M. Bilirakis, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

 

Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you for scheduling this timely hearing on the Administration's Fiscal Year 2008 budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  I would also like to take a moment to welcome VA Secretary, Jim Nicholson, and our other witnesses to the Committee this morning. 

As a new member of the Committee, I am anxious to hear directly from Secretary Nicholson on the Administration's overall budget request for the upcoming fiscal year and how it addresses the needs of our nations’ veterans.  I am also looking forward to hearing the recommendations of the authors of the Independent Budget as well as those of the other veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) testifying today.  The VSOs often provide us with valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of the VA and its needs. 

There are a number of issues in the budget which are of specific interest to me, but rather than spending time to raise them now, I will wait until the question and answer period to discuss them.  However, I do have some concerns regarding the legislative proposals that were included in the Administration’s budget request.

As I understand these proposals, they would implement annual enrollment fees and increased prescription drug co-payments for Priority 7 and 8 veterans.  I know that the Administration has made similar proposals in the past which Congress has rejected. I am very concerned about the impact these proposals would have on our nation’s veterans.  As the Representative of a district with a large veterans’ population, I strongly believe that we must do everything we

can to repay the great debt that we owe the men and women who answered the call to duty, and I hope that the Committee will carefully review these proposals before taking any action on them.    

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to working with you and the other Members of our Committee to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits they earned through their service to our country.