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Opening Statement of The Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

[GAVEL DOWN]

Good morning everyone. 

Welcome to our hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Mr. Secretary, welcome. 

I appreciate your attendance today and that of your leadership team. 

We’ve only had a short time to review the details of the budget request, so we will likely have numerous follow-up questions. 

I’d ask for your cooperation in getting those back to us in a timely manner.

Once again, in a fiscal climate that has regrettably seen the military budget cut to the bone, funding for veterans has emerged as an obvious priority, both for the Administration and the Congress. 

For that, I commend you for your leadership in fighting to ensure veterans remain a priority.

I also want to commend V-A on the operation of its Veterans’ Crisis Line. 

I heard some really positive feedback yesterday from Paul Rieckhoff at yesterday’s hearing. 

Your statement that roughly thirty-five thousand men and women have been rescued from a suicide because of V-A’s intervention – the rough equivalent of two Army divisions – speaks for itself. 

Keep up the good work.

Mr. Secretary, I listened carefully the last few weeks to the military and veterans’ organizations who testified before the Veterans’ Committees regarding the need to improve timely delivery of mental health care, ensure that health care is delivered in state-of-the-art facilities, and sustain V-A’s progress in producing timely and accurate disability claims decisions. 

When I look at this ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-THREE POINT NINE billion DOLLAR budget request, I’m left wondering why we can’t do better than we are in some of those areas. 

I think it’s fair to say that Congress has supported nearly every request the Administration has asked when it comes to veterans, yet significant problems remain.     

For example, although it’s nice to see a steady downward trend in the backlog over the last year, what I hear from service organizations and veterans themselves is that V-A is sacrificing accurate decisions for fast ones, and that it is falling behind on appeals. 

With the record funding provided in this area over the last decade, both in manpower and technology, it’s frustrating to hear those complaints.  

I am also concerned about continued Inspector General and media reports regarding preventable deaths at a number of V-A facilities across the country.

I know that V-A is not infallible, but serious, even deadly, mistakes merit swift and clear accountability. 

 I know you believe that as well, and we’re ready to work with you to give you any tools you may need. 

I will follow up on this last issue in questioning, but I’m troubled with what appears to be a common practice with V-A’s budget submissions of late. 

And that is to identify, based on updated information, excess funds that are no longer necessary, then redirecting those funds toward “initiatives” that were budgeted and appropriated in advance at a lower level.  

For example, V-A overestimated by about SEVEN HUNDRED million dollars it needs for long-term care resources in FISCAL YEAR 2015, but now wants to redirect all of that money and more toward its homeless initiatives, facility activations, and other needs. 

In fact, notwithstanding the overestimation of SEVEN HUNDRED million dollars, V-A now seeks a supplemental budget for Fiscal Year 2015 of three hundred sixty-eight million dollars.

Needless to say, I think this practice needs further discussion.  

These are just a couple of areas I’d like to address with you, Mr. Secretary. 

In the interest of time, however, I’ll recognize the Ranking Member for his opening statement. 

[RECOGNIZE RM MICHAUD]

THANK YOU MR. MICHAUD.

AT THIS TIME I WOULD LIKE TO INTRODUCE OUR FIRST AND ONLY PANEL TODAY.

THIS MORNING WE WILL HEAR TESTIMONY FROM THE HONRABLE ERIC K. SHINSEKI [shin-sek-ee], SECRETARY OF THE U.S.DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS. 

ACCOMPANYING THE SECRETARY  FROM THE Department OF VETERANS AFFAIRS  is,  The honorable Robert A. Petzel, Under secretary for Health; the honorable Allison A. Hickey, Under secretary for Benefits; the honorable Steve L. Muro, under secretary for memorial affairs; Ms. Helen Tierney [teer-nee], Executive in Charge for the Office of Management and Acting Chief Financial Office; and Mr. Stephen Warren, the Executive in Charge for Information and Technology within the Office of Information and Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

SECRETARY SHINSEKI [shin-sek-ee] YOU MAY NOW PROCEED WITH YOUR TESTIMONY.

[RECOGNIZE SECRETARY SHINSEKI]

THANK YOU, MR. SECRETARY 

I WILL NOW YIELD MYSELF FIVE MINUTES FOR QUESTIONS.

I NOW RECOGNIZE THE RANKING MEMBER FOR HIS QUESTIONS.

[RECONGNIZE RM MICHAUD]

[CONTINUE TO RECOGNIZE MEMBERS FOR THEIR QUESTIONS BASED ON ARRIVAL AND ALTERNATING BETWEEN SIDES.]

I ASK UNANIMOUS CONSENT THAT ALL MEMBERS HAVE FIVE LEGISLATIVE DAYS TO REVISE AND EXTEND THEIR REMARKS AND INCLUDE EXTRANEOUS MATERIAL.

WITHOUT OBJECTION, SO ORDERED.

WITH THAT, THIS HEARING IS NOW ADJOURNED.

[GAVEL DOWN.]