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

Chairman Michaud and Ranking Member Miller, thank you for calling this important hearing to discuss the Department’s Fiscal Year 2008 Budget for Veterans’ Health Care.  I look forward to the testimony from our witnesses and discussing what has been such an important issue for me during my time in Congress.

As chairman of this Subcommittee during the 109th Congress, I was proud to share an equal commitment with Mr. Michaud to the well-being of our veterans, and I am glad to see that the Subcommittee is in your very able hands.  The same sentiments go to Ranking Member Miller, who I know is committed to working for the good of our nation’s veterans.

This budget, overall, represents just how far we have come since 2001 in meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans.  Funding for the VA has increased every single year, with medical care dollars a special priority of Congress.  And during that time, we have seen the VA, Congress, and the VSOs come together and work on a number of priority issues: the process VA uses to estimate its budgetary needs, the centralization of VA’s IT, and the move by the VA and DOD to a common electronic medical record.  These moves, which are at varying stages of completion, will ensure the VA truly requests what it needs, protects the security of private records, and provides a seamless transition for our uniformed men and women into the VA system.

During this hearing, I want to focus on a few areas, especially advanced planning for a joint use facility at the Charleston VAMC, and how the VA manages treatment and research related to ALS, a terrible disease that has affected a high percentage of veterans.  ALS has touched one of my friends, former Air Force General Tom Mikolajcik.  A 27-year Air Force veteran, Tom commanded a C-130 Wing during the Gulf War and lead Charleston Air Force Base as the C-17 was deployed.  General Mikolajcik commanded all air operations during the first U.S. operations in Somalia.  And General Mikolajcik suffers from ALS. 

Even with this debilitating disease, Tom is an extremely active member of the Charleston community, especially as it continues to move past the closure of the Naval Base.   We owe it to veterans like Tom to provide the best possible care to veterans with service-connected ALS, and to use the resources available for researching new treatments. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on these and other important issues.  Mr. Chairman, I yield back my time.