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Opening Statement of Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arizona

Good afternoon and thank you for being here today.

Two weeks ago, the American people learned that some of our most seriously wounded warriors were recovering in dilapidated conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, supposedly the Army’s premier medical facility.

These conditions are absolutely unacceptable…..and the American people are rightly outraged.

Sadly, it appears the buildings are just the tip of the iceberg.  Reports have been filtering in about a labyrinth of bureaucratic red tape our returning soldiers having to navigate to get the basic health care benefits they need and deserve.

These problems have a direct impact on these men and women as they transition from the military’s health care system into the VA.

We have a responsibility to investigate how issues at the Department of Defense affect soldiers as they become veterans. We have a responsibility to make sure that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is doing its job to make that transition as easy as possible.

I’m not convinced the Veterans’ Affairs Department is doing its part.

Last night, ABC News reported that “a proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department.”

I am deeply troubled when wounded soldiers say in news reports that the VA has made them feel “horrible.”

That’s unacceptable and embarrassing, and the American people deserve answers.  Today we hope to get some of them.

In today’s hearing, we will hear from witnesses who have seen or experience first-hand the difficulties veterans face when they transition from the D-O-D health care system to the VA network.

Their stories are compelling, and I am eager to learn how the VA is responding to their concerns as well the health care needs of their fellow veterans.  I am pleased to note the number of new veterans who have taken time to come and observe our hearing. In particular, I would like to recognize Specialist Gregory Williams, Corporal Noel Santos, Sergeant Frank Valentine, and Staff Sergeant Danny Vega. We are honored to welcome these young heroes.

At this time, I ask unanimous consent that Mr. Filner, Mr. Buyer, Mr. Hare, Mr. Lamborn, and Mr. Bilirakis, be invited to sit at the dais for the Subcommittee hearing today.

Hearing no objection, so ordered.  

Before I recognize the Ranking Republican Member for her remarks, I would like to swear in all our witnesses.

I ask that all witnesses stand and raise their right hand.

Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

I now recognize Ms. Brown-Waite for opening remarks.