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Opening Statement of Hon. John J. Hall, Chairman, and a Representative from the State of New York

Good Morning,

I would ask everyone to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance – flags are located in the front and rear of the room.

I would like to thank the witnesses for taking the time to appear today to present testimony on these important measures pending before the Committee.

Today we will examine seven bills covering a broad spectrum of this Subcommittee’s jurisdiction. 

The first is H.R. 674, introduced by Congressman Gutierrez, which would repeal the sunset of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, slated to occur December 31, 2009 without Congressional action.  As I stated during the Joint DAMA/Health Subcommittee hearing, I am especially concerned about the pending expiration of this authorization in light of a June 2007 report from the VA Health Services Research & Development Service (HSR&D), entitled Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the VA Healthcare System: A Systematic Review

This report found that racial disparities exist in all clinical arenas and that the disparities in health care delivery are contributing to measurable differences in health outcomes.  It also found that the disparate treatment in the VA appears to affect African-American and Hispanic veterans more significantly.  With minorities comprising 20% of all of our nation’s veterans, like Mr. Gutierrez, I believe the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans plays an essential and indispensable role for the VA and should be made a permanent fixture.

We will also receive testimony on three bills regarding veterans’ memorial benefits, H.R. 1273, H.R. 2346, H.R. 2696, offered by Ms. Berkley, Mr. Fossella and Mr. Lamborn, the Ranking Member, respectively.  Ms. Berkley’s and Mr. Lamborn’s bills, among other things, seek to increase the plot and headstone or marker allowances for our veterans who choose to be laid to rest in state or private cemeteries. 

Mr. Fossella’s bill, H.R. 2346, is intended to improve the process for determining where our national cemeteries are located.  I know that because of changing migration patterns and just simple geographic configurations, the current criteria of a 170,000 veteran population in a 75-mile radius, is not always a workable paradigm.  I also am aware that the VA is currently evaluating its memorial benefits plan and I look forward to hearing testimony on its progress in this area – before the April 2008 target completion date. 

We will also hear from Mr. Rahall on two bills that would expand the categories of those veterans eligible to receive pensions for non-service-connected disability death or service.  H.R. 1900 would do so by providing this pension to veterans receiving expeditionary medals and H.R. 1901 would do so by including those veterans who served in the Korean peninsula, Lebanon, Panama and Grenada.  I look forward to receiving testimony on these two important measures.

Lastly, H.R. 2697, also sponsored by Mr. Lamborn, would expand the eligibility for veterans’ mortgage life insurance (VMLI) to include members of the Armed Forces receiving specially adaptive housing.  I  know it is often difficult for these service members to acquire commercial insurance policies and this bill would close that gap between the military and VA benefits.  This change is likely more necessary than ever for our returning OIF/OEF veterans.

Thank you.