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

Good morning.  This hearing will come to order.

I am pleased to welcome everyone today and to join with members of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs to hear from of our distinguished guests as they present their legislative priorities.  In the interest of time, after hearing from Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Michaud, and Ranking Member Boozman, I would like to ask Committee members to waive their opening statements.  There will be an opportunity for remarks during the question and answer period following today’s testimony.  Hearing no objections, so ordered.

Our witnesses today will include: Colonel Peter J. Duffy, U.S. Army (Ret.), Director of Legislation for the National Guard Association of the United States; Rear Admiral W. Clyde Marsh, U.S. Navy (Ret.), President of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs; Mr. John Rowan, National President of the Vietnam Veterans of America; Colonel Robert E. Pickard, U.S. Army (Ret.), National Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States; Mr. John H. Mitchell, Jr., National Commander of AMVETS; Mr. Ron Siebels, National Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; Mr. Richard J. Delaney, National President of The Retired Enlisted Association; Colonel Robert F. Norton, U.S. Army (Ret.), Deputy Director of Government Relations for the Military Officers Association of America; and Mr. Mark Cornell, National President of the Blinded Veterans Association.

These individuals, and the organizations they represent, possess a wealth of information that is used to improve the lives of our veterans.  The work they perform and the expertise they provide help ensure the men and women of our armed forces have the care, benefits, and opportunities they deserve when they come home.

The selfless service these organizations offer to our veterans is admirable, and I am thankful for the dedication of their representatives, especially those who have worn the uniform themselves.   It is crucial to provide the very best for our returning warfighters, so I am honored in my position as Chairman to work in concert with these groups.

I would like to welcome everyone that has made the journey here from the great state of Florida - please stand if you are able, or wave to be recognized.  I would also like to welcome the members of each organization’s auxiliary, and thank each one of you for your work both behind the scenes and for continued advocacy on the issues that matter most to our veterans, their families, and survivors.   The energy and attention that the auxiliaries bring to these issues ensures that no one is overlooked. 

While every one of these organizations has its own legislative priorities, they all share a common goal, one that these committees share as well: providing the best services for our veterans who have returned home and for those who will be returning home in the future.  We have made great strides to meet that goal together, but there is still much work to be done. 

Along with Ranking Member Michaud, I was proud to introduce H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2014.  This common-sense legislation, which passed the House unanimously, was crafted to cover many areas that are currently lacking with regard to services provided to veterans.  First, it will decrease the cost of education, strengthen the transitional assistance program, and increase access to vocational rehabilitation and employment, while improving services to reduce homelessness within the veteran community.  It will also require greater VA accountability of travel expenditures and medical care provided to veterans, particularly in the areas of infectious disease reporting and informed consent.  Another one of the great benefits this legislation contains is a section that will prohibit the Secretary of VA awarding costly, and in many cases unwarranted, bonuses to Senior Executive Service members through Fiscal Year 2018.

I was also pleased to introduce H.R. 4031, the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, legislation that would give VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and future VA secretaries, complete authority to fire or demote VA Senior Executive Service or equivalent employees based on poor performance.  This bill will remove the considerable amounts of red tape involved that force this process to drag on for long periods of time and make it virtually impossible to hold VA executives immediately accountable.

Finally, 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 the Department, and to veterans, are not…including accounts for information technology, as well as for construction spending on vital maintenance and improvement projects. 

The passage of this measure is crucial, as the possibility of future political gridlock must not compromise the functionality of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  I look forward to today’s testimony and our continued collaboration in doing what is right for our Nation’s veterans.