Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing to discuss the fiscal year 2008 funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I am committed to our responsibility to ensure that the budget we adopt will continue to meet both the complex needs of our new generation of younger veterans as well as maintain and improve the quality of services for our older veterans.
I want to thank the Secretary for his appearance before the Committee today and I thank you for your leadership. I also want to commend the manner in which you and your staff have responded to the emergent challenges in taking care of our veterans.
I also appreciate the Veterans Service Organization representatives for participating in our hearing today. Your outlook on funding recommendations for veterans programs and input into the budget is of great value to me in this process.
It is satisfying to see that after this Committee uncovered weaknesses in the process VA used to develop its health care budget in 2005, the budget request for fiscal year 2008 is more transparent. The Department proposes $36.6 billion for VA health care - the largest amount ever requested by any Administration.
However, I would be remiss in not expressing my concern about the inclusion of legislative proposals to establish fees and increases in pharmacy co-payments for certain veterans without service-connected conditions similar to requests that Congress has rejected year after year.
Having Chaired the Subcommittee on Disabilities and Memorial Affairs last year, I am cautiously encouraged that the budget includes increased funding to reduce compensation processing time and improve accuracy.
In the State of Florida, the VA patient workload is among the highest in the Nation and the demand for VA health care continues to grow, especially in Okaloosa County, the center of my Congressional District.
Three years ago, the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission identified this Florida Panhandle region as underserved for inpatient care. In fact, it is the only market area in the VISN, VISN 16, without a medical center.
The absence of a VA inpatient facility continues to be one of the biggest concerns of veterans who live in this area. Currently, many of these veterans have to drive to Mississippi to receive inpatient care.
Bringing a full service VA hospital to the first district is something I have been fighting for. I look forward to working with the Department in support of VA’s overall capital construction program to address the issue of providing timely access to inpatient healthcare for veterans living in and around Okaloosa County.
Collectively, we share the same goal of providing exceptional service to those who have served in our Armed Forces and sacrificed so much for our freedom.
I hope that our hearing this morning will point the way toward close cooperation among all of us as advocates of our Nation’s veterans to respond to their evolving needs and those of their families.