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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good morning. It is my privilege to welcome you to today’s joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees on the legislative priorities of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

I want to extend a hearty welcome to National Commander-in-Chief Richard L. Eubank.  Commander, we look forward to hearing your testimony in a few minutes.

In the interest of time, and with the agreement of my Senate colleagues, after hearing from Chairman Murray, Ranking Member Filner, and Ranking Member Burr, 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 Commander-in-Chief Eubank’s testimony.

I am honored to be here this afternoon with so many VFW members, each an American hero in their own right. Each of you has sacrificed selflessly in service to our country and continue to give of yourself today through membership in VFW and its auxiliary.

On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your service and for making the trip to Washington to share your legislative agenda with our Committees and Congress.

I would also like to take a moment to recognize the VFW members who - like myself - are proud to call home to the white sand beaches and sunshine of Florida. Gentlemen and ladies, would you please stand. Thanks again for all you do and I look forward to meeting with the delegation while you are in Washington.   

I want to also extend a special welcome to the Senior Vice-President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary Ms. Gwen Rankin. Ms. Rankin is here on behalf of Auxiliary President Mrs. Cortina (kor-TINA) Barnes, who was unable to be here today.

Thank you for your attendance Ms. Rankin and I congratulate you on the fine work of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary. 

I am pleased to be joined by my colleagues from across the aisle and across the Capitol.

Chairman Murray, I mentioned last week when we met how much I look forward to working with you in particular. I’d also like to salute your predecessor, Senator Akaka, who last week announced he will be retiring after over three decades of service in the Congress and, well before that, as a World War II veteran.  Senator Akaka, thank you for your years of dedicated service to veterans.  You will be missed.

One area where I know we all share a common interest is the implementation of the caregiver assistance program required by Public Law 111-163. We worked hard with our friends in the Senate to get that bill to the President.

It troubles me that the first public plan the administration has put forth regarding this important program was three months overdue and met with serious concern from advocates and stakeholders.  Even worse, and I hope I’m wrong about this, but it looks like the Administration’s response has been to dig its heels in.  This must, and will, change.

As a first step our Health Subcommittee will be holding a hearing on Friday on the implementation of the caregiver program to ensure that VA’s plans are consistent with Congressional intent and established in a timely manner to provide important support to those who need it as quickly as possible.

I know I speak for everyone up here when I offer my commitment to get this right for veterans and their caregivers. 

Commander Eubank, as more of our servicemembers return every day from fighting in the War on Terror, it is a comfort to know that VFW members nationwide stand ready support them.

In a time of continuing conflict and fiscal constraint, the services provided by great organizations like yours have never been more necessary.

Your innovative assistance and support programs are available to servicemembers and their families from the day they enter service to years beyond their discharge date.

Your programs in the National Military Services that assist active duty servicemembers include:

  • Operation Uplink, which has connected over five million telephone calls between servicemembers and their loved ones free of charge.
  • The Unmet Needs program which provides grants of $2,500 for basic life needs such as: mortgage and rent, home and auto repairs, insurance, utilities, food and clothing to families of deployed servicemembers.
  • The Military Assistance Program, which provides grant money to local VFW Posts to host events to assist military units around the globe.

Commander Eubank, the VFW’s efforts don’t stop when a servicemember leaves the military. You have 6,000 regularly scheduled VFW volunteers that provide more than one million hours of service annually to veterans and their families. 

Whether it is by volunteering at VA hospitals and clinics, assisting fellow veterans with their claims, or by providing final honors for veterans as they are laid to rest, VFW volunteers do it all.

This is something that we can all be proud of and I personally thank you for VFW’s efforts.

Commander, as your testimony states, there are significant challenges ahead for VA and for this Committee, not the least of which is reforming the claims processing system and ensuring appropriate funding levels for veterans programs in a time of fiscal constraint.

I was very pleased to see your testimony echoed my call for rigorous oversight to ensure that the tax dollars provided to VA are effectively and efficiently used to improve veterans lives. In this endeavor, I stand with you wholeheartedly.

VFW members were the boots on the ground in conflict and are now the boots on the ground at VA.  This Congress is going to need your expertise in identifying areas where VA could be better.

I want today’s hearing to be the beginning of an open and on-going conversation between us as partners in creating a better future for American veterans and their families. Commander, I look forward to starting that dialogue with your testimony this afternoon. Thank you.

I would now yield to Chairman Murray.