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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 

I appreciate your holding this legislative hearing today and welcome the opportunity to discuss the twelve different legislative proposals before us focusing on providing better health care access for veterans.

There has been an unprecedented demand for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care.  Since 2003, the number of patients VA is treating has grown from 4.8 million to an expected 5.8 million in FY 2008.  In 2008, VA anticipates treating 263,000 Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans, 25.8 percent more than the 2007 level.  This surge in demand for health care is expected to continue and creates new challenges for VA’s capacity to deliver both primary and specialty care.  

Two of the bills we will consider today, H.R. 92, the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act, and H.R. 339, the Veterans Outpatient Care Access Act of 2007, would require VA to contract for care for veterans who are unable to be seen in a VA facility in a timely manner.  Since 2004, VA has reported a substantial improvement in the percent of veterans who receive appointments within 30 days of a patient’s desired date, stating they are meeting their established 30 day goal for 96 percent of primary care and 94 percent of specialty care patients.  However, statistics mean nothing to a veteran who is delayed care because they are placed on a waiting list.  If VA cannot meet its own established standard for any veteran, that patient should be given the choice to receive care in a non-VA facility.

Last week, this Subcommittee held a hearing on veterans’ access to care that highlighted our concern that veterans in rural areas face additional challenges to receiving health care as these areas are traditionally underserved.  In the Pensacola area of Florida, in my district, the nearest inpatient VA facility is located approximately 125 miles away in Biloxi, Mississippi.  

Several of the bills we will examine would specifically address the needs of veterans living in rural or geographically remote areas.  One of the bills, H.R. 1527, the Rural Veterans Access to Care Act, introduced by our fellow Subcommittee Member, Jerry Moran, would allow a highly rural veteran enrolled in VA health care to receive services through a local provider if that veteran chooses to receive non-Department care.  It would also allow VA pharmacies to fill prescriptions written by non-Department providers for these veterans.

In March, this Subcommittee held a hearing to assess the rehabilitation needs and care of our injured servicemembers with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  These injured servicemembers and their families are relying on VA to provide a full continuum of first class care and support for their complete recovery - from inpatient services at the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, to outpatient rehabilitation to long-term care services in their home communities.  At this hearing we will consider H.R. 1944, the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act of 2007. This bill would among other requirements, establish a comprehensive program of long-term care for post-acute TBI in four geographic regions.

Additionally, we will discuss legislation to improve the provision of chiropractic care through VA medical centers.  According to a November 2006 VA study, musculoskeletal ailments are among the top health problems of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

We will also consider H.R. 463, the Honor Our Commitment to Veterans Act.  This legislation would change the law to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to administer the VA health care enrollment system as to enroll any eligible veteran who applies.  The President’s Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery For Our Nation’s Veterans, in their 2003 Final Report, issued a recommendation that “The present uncertain access status and funding of Priority Group 8 veterans is unacceptable.  Individual veterans have not known from year to year if they will be granted access to VA care.  The President and Congress should work together to solve this problem.” 

In closing, I want to thank the Members who have brought these bills before us and all of our witnesses appearing here today.  I look forward to engaging in a productive discussion about legislation that will help us provide the best care for our veterans, whether it is through contract care, or requiring more VA medical centers to provide chiropractic services. 

Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.