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

The committee will come to order.

Good afternoon.

It is my privilege to welcome you to today’s joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees to receive the legislative priorities of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

Before we get started, we have one small bit of housekeeping.

In the interest of time and in keeping with the tradition of these hearings, after hearing from myself, Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Michaud [ME-SHOW], and Ranking Member Burr, I would like to ask all other Committee Members to waive their opening statements.

There will be an opportunity for remarks following today’s testimony.

Hearing no objection, so ordered.

It is a true honor for me to be here this afternoon with so many DAV members.

Each of you sacrificed selflessly in service to our country in uniform and each of you continue to sacrifice selflessly out of uniform through your work in the DAV.

On behalf of a grateful nation, thank you all for your time this afternoon, for the many charitable endeavors you undertake through the DAV, and for your brave and honorable service to our nation.

I want to extend a special welcome to your National Commander, Mr. Larry A. Polzin [POLL-ZIN], a service-connected, Vietnam-era veteran and a career DAV employee. 

Sir, thank you for your years of service, for your leadership, and for your attendance today.

I also want to welcome Ms. Donna M. Adams, the National Commander of the DAV Auxiliary. 

Ma’am, thank you for being here and for all of the good work that the Auxiliary does for our veterans.

Finally, I would like to recognize the DAV members from my home state of Florida who are in our audience today.

Each of you is a credit to our community and I am proud to have you here in our nation’s Capitol.

On behalf of all our neighbors in the Sunshine State, I thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

As I mentioned earlier, we are also joined here today by Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Michaud [ME-SHOW], and Ranking Member Burr as well as Committee members from both the House and the Senate.

I want to extend an especially warm welcome to my friend and colleague from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who joins us today as the new Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Sir, I am glad to have you here and I look forward to working very closely with you to support our veterans and improve the health care and benefits provided to them through the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Commander Polzin [POLL-ZIN], our work begins with your testimony today and, after reading your written statement, there can be no doubt that you have much to be proud of.

Due to the hard work and dedication of DAV’s one point four million members, veterans are provided with professional benefits counseling and claims assistance; transportation to and from VA health care facilities; transition assistance services; and on-site care at Military Treatment Facilities, at VA medical centers and clinics, and at home.

That is just to name a few of the many programs and services DAV provides each day.

I have witnessed many of these efforts firsthand and am personally grateful to each of you for the hard work DAV does across the country.

I am also grateful for the hard work DAV does right here in Washington.

In my two years as Chairman - hand-in hand with DAV and our other veterans service organization (VSO) partners - we have:

- reduced veteran unemployment and provided retraining assistance benefits to ninety-nine thousand unemployed veterans;

- ensured the safety of veteran patients and VA employees by strengthening protections against sexual assault and other safety incidents at VA medical facilities; and,

- conducted close oversight of VA’s disability claims process, major and minor construction programs, and mental health care system. 

Throughout these efforts and many more, DAV’s support, advice, and encouragement have been invaluable. 

However, our work together has just begun. 

I would like to ask for your support in advancing a bill - H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 - that I have introduced with Ranking Member Michaud [ME-SHOW].

Anyone who has put a son or daughter through college is painfully aware of the rising cost of tuition, especially for out-of-state colleges and universities.

Our student veterans are not immune to these increases.

When someone joins the military, they do not swear to defend their home state; they swear to defend all fifty states.

This legislation would offer public colleges and universities a choice: either charge veterans in-state tuition rates or no longer be eligible to enroll student veterans under the GI bill.

It is time that public colleges and universities stop balancing their budgets on the backs of student veterans and I am hopeful that you will join in this effort.

Another area where I know we agree concerns the importance of the advance appropriation process.

Seemingly endless continuing resolutions and the near-constant threat of government shutdown appear to be new facts of life surrounding our budget process.

In 2009, we instituted advance appropriation for three VA medical care accounts to protect our veterans’ health care from being negatively impacted by Washington’s budget stalemates.

However, other VA accounts continue to be funded through the regular appropriations process and the logjam that all-too-often entails.

We cannot allow our veterans and the programs that serve their needs to be threatened when Washington can’t do its job.

Your written statement calls for Congress to extend the protection advance appropriation provides to these other accounts and I am proud to announce here today that I have introduced legislation to make that happen.

This week, in particular - with sequestration looming large in all of our hearts and minds - illustrates the urgent need for this action.

Due to this Committee’s persistent oversight, the Administration has made it clear that VA is exempt from the automatic budget cuts set to take effect this Friday and our veterans and their families can be assured that the health care and benefits provided to them through VA will not suffer through sequestration.

For that, I am grateful.

However, there can be no doubt that we find ourselves in a time of great difficulty, with ongoing conflicts persisting across the world and undeniable calls for fiscal restraint here at home.

In times like these, the work of organizations like DAV has never been more important.

There is great work ahead of us and I am confident that there are great accomplishments as well.

Together, there is no challenge we can’t meet on behalf of our veterans.

Thank you all once again.