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Opening Statement of Hon. Henry E. Brown, Jr., a Representative in Congress from the State of South Carolina

 

Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Buyer, thank you for calling this hearing to examine the Administration’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2008.  I look forward to hearing from Secretary Nicholson on our first panel and from representatives from many of our nation’s veterans service organizations later in the day. 

As past chair of both the Health and former Benefits subcommittees, I am pleased that this budget continues the hard work our committee and the Administration embarked upon just a few short years ago.  In 2001, we had a VA that was receiving just over $20 billion for medical care.  In the budget proposal we are discussing today, VA is in line to receive upwards of $36 billion for veterans’ medical care.  This accomplishment would not have been possible had it not been for the commitment made by this Committee, the Administration, and so many others in and out of Congress to our nation’s veterans. 

As the Congress and this Committee looks at the Administration’s current budget proposal, I am hopeful that we will do so in a way that focuses on the bipartisan concern we all have for the wellbeing of our nation’s veterans.  The work done in our VA medical centers is of such importance, not only to veterans, but also for our entire nation.  From developing new treatments to leading the world in the use of electronic medical records, the work of the VA truly is world class.

That said, as with any organization, especially one as large as the VA, there is room for improvement.  I am especially glad to see that this budget includes something that this committee has called for the VA to do for a very long time.  The centralized management of information technology (IT) systems and security contained in this budget will lead to improved security for the personal information of our nation’s veterans as well as provide the VA with the ability to improve service from the top down. 

In addition, I want to praise Secretary Nicholson and the Department of Defense for coming together under the banner of common sense to develop a joint medical records system for our service personnel and veterans.  This will go a long way towards achieving the goal of seamless transition that this committee has so actively pursued. 

In closing, Mr. Chairman, while I certainly have concerns with this budget and some of the funding decisions made by the administration within certain accounts, overall I believe it sets a very solid starting point for Congress to build upon.  I look forward to that process in the coming months.  Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for the time, which I now yield back.