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Opening Statement of Hon. Michael H. Michaud, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Maine

The Subcommittee on Health will come to order.  I would like to thank everyone for coming today.

I would like to welcome the Ranking Member, Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida.

Before we begin, I ask unanimous consent that all written statements be made part of the record.  Without objection it is so ordered.

I ask unanimous consent that all Members be allowed five legislative days to revise and extend their remarks.  Without objection it is so ordered.

Today we are here to discuss Vet Centers – the benefits that they have provided to our current population of veterans and the important and growing role they will have in helping veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Vet Center program was established in 1979 to help Vietnam Era veterans with readjustment challenges. 

Vet Centers provide an alternative environment outside of the regular VA system for a broad range of counseling, outreach, and referral services. 

Most importantly, Vet Centers provide an environment in which veterans can speak openly to veterans about their experiences.

Vet Centers have been a success, and now they have a new mission.

In 2003, then Secretary Principi extended Vet Center eligibility to OEF, OIF, and Global War On Terror veterans as well as bereavement counseling to survivors of military personnel who die while on active duty, to include federally activated Guard and Reservists.

Not surprisingly, workload at Vet Centers continues to increase.  This trend will likely continue as OEF/OIF veterans deal with everything from mild readjustment issues to serious mental health challenges.

VA currently has 209 Vet Centers located throughout the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

There are five Vet Centers in Maine that do great work (Bangor, Caribou, Lewiston, Portland, and Sanford).

VA has scheduled 23 new centers to open in the next two years.  There has also been an effort to hire GWOT veterans to serve as peer-to-peer counselors.

The purpose of this hearing is to determine how Vet Centers can continue to fulfill their unique and critical role within the VA continuum of care. 

Each generation of veterans has its own unique needs.  It is important that Vet Centers are prepared to meet the needs of our new veterans while still caring for veterans from previous conflicts.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on:

  • How we can maintain and improve services provided by Vet Centers;
  • If we have appropriate facilities and staffing;
  • What role can and should other resources within our communities play to help veterans and improve care; and
  • Most importantly, what should we do to strengthen the invaluable peer-to-peer counseling available through Vet Centers?