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

Thank you Chairman Sanders and Leader Pelosi

For 95 years the American Legion has served as a source of guidance for those of us serving veterans in Congress.   We are grateful for your continued service to our nation and our communities, and we value your input as we shape well informed policies. 

Today, I look forward to our discussion about the American Legion’s legislative priorities today and I would like to second Chairman Sanders warm welcome of Commander Dan Dellinger (Dell-In-Ger) who is here on behalf of the American Legion family.  I look forward to your testimony and to your update on Legion activities since we last saw you before this joint committee six months ago. 

I also would like to welcome Nancy Brown-Park and her fellow members that are here representing the American Legion Auxiliary, and to also recognize Master Chief Petty Officer Stevens from the United States Navy, we are grateful for your service and for your presence here today.

I also would like to offer a resounding welcome to all American Legion members present here today.  I know many of you have traveled a great distance to represent your membership throughout our nation and we are pleased to have you here. As a proud resident of the Sunshine State I would particularly like to welcome those of you from Florida, would you please raise your hands.

Your System Worth Saving task force has been invaluable as we continue to address the challenges facing VA. In your testimony you discuss ‘troubling trends’ emerging and my Committee has seen that as well in numerous preventable veteran deaths, suicides, and lack of access to timely benefits and care.    I agree that accountability at all levels of VA must be taken seriously, starting with those VA executives who are responsible for poorly performing facilities and regional offices. As a first step in rectifying this egregious situation, I have introduced H.R. 4031, The VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, which would give Secretary Shinseki, and all future Secretaries, complete authority to terminate or demote VA senior executive service or equivalent employees, based on poor performance.  I appreciate your strong support for this important legislation.  

I also would like to take a moment to highlight a few other pieces of legislation from my Committee that many of you support.  First, along with Ranking Member Michaud, I was proud to introduce H.R.  357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2014 which would decrease the cost of education by requiring that in-state tuition rates be offered to recently separated service members. This important bill passed the House last month by a 390 to zero vote, so I am hopeful of it being considered in a similar bipartisan fashion here in the Senate. 

Additionally, I was proud to introduce H.R.  813, the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013. While the Veterans Health Administration is largely shielded from budgetary impasse, other functions critical to veterans are not.  These include accounts that fund VA’s benefits programs, information technology, and construction spending on vital maintenance and life safety projects.  We must not allow the possibility of future political gridlock to compromise the functionality of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I thank you for your support on this legislation.

Your nearly 3,000 veteran service officers have no doubt assisted veterans caught in VA’s claims backlog as they attempt to access their benefits in a timely manner.   My bill   H.R.  2189, which would improve VA’s processing of service-connected disability benefits has passed out of the House and I ask for your continued support as this measure is considered by the Senate. 

Commander Dellinger, thank you for being here today and for your work on behalf of our veterans. I look forward to your testimony and to our continued collaboration in ensuring that each and every veteran is treated as the vital, irreplaceable member of our community that they are.

On a personal note, I was humbled to have received the American Legion’s Distinguished Public Service Award just yesterday.  Commander Dellinger, again, thank you for that honor.  You and all veterans have my commitment to continue constructive oversight and bipartisan cooperation on behalf of all veterans.

I yield back . . .