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

Good afternoon. 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 Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

I understand my friend in the Senate, Ranking Member Burr, has a scheduling conflict so before proceeding with the rest of my opening statement, I would like to yield to him to introduce his constituent - DAV National Commander, Mr. Wally Tyson.

Thank you, Mr. Burr. I look forward to hearing more from the Commander shortly.

One last bit of housekeeping before we get started - In the interest of time, after hearing from Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Filner, 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 Tyson’s testimony.

Hearing no objections, so ordered.

Now, I am honored to be here this afternoon with so many DAV 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 DAV and their auxiliary. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your service and for your time.

I want to say a special welcome to your National Commander, Mr. Wally Tyson. Sir, I thank you for being here and I look forward to hearing your testimony.

I would also like to take a moment to recognize the DAV members from my home state of Florida, especially those who - like myself - are proud to call home to the white sand beaches and sunshine of Florida’s Panhandle. I had the privilege of meeting this morning with Mr. Larry Kyser and Mr. Brian Moore from the First District as well as Mr. Al Linden and Mr. Frank Chicollo [Chick-o-low] from nearby. Gentlemen, thanks again for all you do. It was pleasure meeting you.

I am pleased to be joined by my colleagues from across the aisle and across the Capitol including Ranking Member Filner and Members of both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees.

In particular, I want to extend a warm welcome to Chairman Murray, joining us this afternoon as the first female Chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Madame Chairman, congratulations on your assignment to this important post. I have long admired your dedication to our nation’s servicemembers and veterans and it is my hope that we will work closely together to accomplish our mutual goal of caring for those who have borne the battle.

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.

Our Health Subcommittee will be holding a hearing next week 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 Tyson, as more American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines return every day from fighting in the War on Terror, it is a comfort to know that DAV 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.

Through DAV’s National Service Program, veterans are offered professional benefits counseling and claims assistance at no cost. In addition, I am told that last year alone DAV volunteers provided nearly 2.2 million hours of essential services to veterans in VA medical facilities and nearly 1.9 million hours driving veterans to and from VA medical appointments.

With thousands of servicemembers and veterans in my district, I know firsthand how invaluable those services are to the veterans who need them and I am personally grateful for the services you provide and the leadership you show in the veteran community.

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.

Mr. Commander, 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.

DAV’s 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. Mr. Commander, I look forward to starting that dialogue with your testimony this afternoon.

Thank you.