Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Ranking Republican Member, Subcommittee on Health
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
The Vet Center program was established by Congress more than 25 years ago as a means of providing readjustment counseling to many Vietnam era veterans that were experiencing difficulties readjusting to civilian life after returning home from the war. Vet Centers were specifically designed to be separate from VA hospitals to overcome concerns about stigma and offer easy access in friendly community-based settings.
Over the years, the mission of the Vet Centers has been broadened to provide counseling, outreach and referral services to all veterans who served in a combat zone and to include their family members. On the home front, Vet Centers are increasingly becoming an active support system for a new generation of returning soldiers and their families – a place where they can find other veterans who have experienced combat themselves to help them make a successful readjustment to civilian life.
Last Congress, we enacted Public Law 109-461 that required VA to hire not less than 100 additional OEF/OIF veterans to provide specialized peer-to-peer counseling and outreach to these newly returning veterans from the Global War on Terror. The law also authorized $180 million in funding for the Vet Centers.
About forty-one percent of OEF and OIF veterans come from and return to rural communities. Access to VA services for these veterans is far more challenging than for their fellow comrades who live in urban areas.
It is especially important that rural veterans are provided with the same initial outreach to facilitate subsequent access to all VA services.
I welcome our witnesses and appreciate this opportunity to obtain your guidance on how Vet Centers are being used and staffed, the effectiveness of the services, and ways in which provision of services can be improved.