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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

Ensuring that the men and women of our armed forces, to whom we owe so much, have timely access to the best health care is of the utmost importance to me. 

As we look ahead to the future of VA health care, we see a new generation of veterans combined with veterans of past wars.  These veterans will have different needs, and we must ensure VA has the resources and ability to serve all of their health care requirements. 

VA has faced tremendous challenges in the past few years with the rapid increase in demand for VA health care.  VA’s inability to meet its own access standards and the fiscal year 2005 budget shortfall has given rise to veterans groups to urge Congress to move VA health care from its current discretionary appropriation to a mandatory spending authority.  They see this as a solution to avoiding uncertainties of the annual appropriations process and ensure all eligible and enrolled veterans may gain and retain access to VA health care programs.

I believe it is the wrong solution. While it is understandable that groups would want “guaranteed” funding, there is no guarantee that a mandatory funding mechanism would enhance resources for veterans’ medical care. 

Mandatory funding proposals would fund VA through a formula that takes into account the number of enrolled and veterans eligible for VA medical care, and the consumer price index.  These concepts have not been tested, and to implement an untested formula could lead to significant risks and unintended consequences for veterans’ health care.  As the veteran population declines, it could even result in under funding VA health care in the future and threaten the long-term viability of the VA to provide care to the highest priority severely disabled veterans   Further, these funding mechanisms do not provide for VA research or construction, which are integral pieces of the Veterans Health Administration.  Under the current discretionary funding structure, Congress has acted to improve the VA budget process and passed record spending levels for veterans’ health care.  

Our most effective tool for enforcing change at the VA is our legislative authority to hold VA accountable through the “power of the purse”.   A rigid mandatory funding formula would provide absolutely no incentive for VA to realize higher performance standards or maximize the use of its own resources.

Mr. Chairman, our responsibility is not to take the politically appealing route -  it is to provide our veterans with a sustainable system of benefits now, and in the future.  Especially at this time when our military is so heavily engaged in fighting the war on terror, Congress must retain the right and ability to oversee VA’s health care system and adjust the level of funding to the rapidly changing needs of the veteran population. 

Thank you and I yield back the balance of my time.