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

Thank you Chairman Murray. Good morning. First and foremost, I want to thank all of you for coming here today. I am excited to be here, as I am sure all of you are as well. It is my hope that we can use today as an opportunity to better support our Nation’s veterans.

To all of you who have traveled here today, I thank you for making the trip to Washington to share your legislative agenda with our Committees and the Congress, and more importantly for your continued service and dedication to help better the lives of our Veterans and their families.

I would also like to take a moment to recognize the members of the different organizations who - like myself - are proud to call Florida home. Gentlemen and ladies, would you please stand. Thanks again for all you do and I look forward to working with you all during this 112th Congress.

Last Friday, I had the privilege of speaking at the 3rd Annual National Medal of Honor Day Ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Being a part of that wonderful ceremony further deepened my respect of the selflessness of the American service member. You all have risked life and limb to protect our freedom and, for that, you deserve the absolute best from your Congress and VA.

One area where I know all of us who serve on the Veterans’ Committees share a common interest is finding ways to effectively decrease the backlog of claims at VA.

I am hopeful that the proposed electronic claims processing system will yield the results our veterans deserve. However, I am also not naïve enough to think this step will entirely solve the troubles of the claims process. I am open to any new ideas and am willing to put all options on the table.

Another area where our Committees share a common goal is the effective use of taxpayer dollars in meeting our obligations to veterans. 

As we enter into an era of increased fiscal discipline our Committees will continue to welcome input as to how we can eliminate any wasteful or redundant spending that exists within VA.

Veterans are not only beneficiaries of VA programs, they are also taxpayers.  All of us should expect strict accountability for every cent that VA is given to help veterans and survivors. To that end, I’m asking all of the great organizations here today to help us going forward. 

Two weeks ago, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs released its views and estimates letter regarding the VA’s budget. In short, the letter called for a measured increase of between 3 and 3.5 percent to meet the needs of veterans, but it also recommends a redirection of funds away from central office support functions and towards direct services for veterans.  I am proud to say that for the first time in many years the letter received overwhelming bipartisan support.

I’d like to publicly thank the Ranking Member, Mr. Filner –who I understand will be on a different kind of campaign trail this year—for his leadership in helping to make that happen. 

I’ve reviewed the testimony in preparation for today’s hearing and can see we share many of the same concerns.  Many of us agree that there are significant challenges ahead for VA to reform its claims processing system; quality health care must be ensured; and that we must finally break down the barriers that exist between the Department of Defense and VA when it comes to effectively delivering services to transitioning service members and families.

Again, your members use these programs routinely and have experienced what works or, what doesn’t work. We welcome any and all recommendations for improvement.

If past hearings serve as any indication, then today will mark the start of an open and on-going conversation among us - as partners - in creating a better future for American veterans and their families. I look forward to continuing that dialogue with the testimonies this morning. Thank you.

I yield back.