Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of The Honorable Michael Michaud, Ranking Member, House Committee on Veteran Affairs
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL H. MICHAUD,
RANKING MINORITY MEMBER
The Effect of Government Shutdown on
VA Benefits and Services to Veterans
October 9, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Before we begin exploring how the government shutdown is affecting veterans and the VA, I want to acknowledge the very real consequences the lapse in appropriations has had on VA employees. I know that VA employees do not work solely for a paycheck. They work because they believe in helping veterans. You have done your job, now it is time for Congress to do its job.
We can do this in two ways, either the Senate can take up the MILCONVA appropriation bill passed by the House, or the House can take up the clean CR bill passed by the Senate. I don’t care which we choose as long as we get on with re-opening the government with a fully funded VA.
The VA “contingency plan” and “field guide” provided us a rough idea of the consequences of a government shutdown. Last week, we saw the immediate shutdown of some VA offices, such as the Inspector General. Yesterday, we saw some VBA and IT accounts run dry and thousands of VA employees furloughed. We know that the mandatory funds to pay compensation and pension benefits are scheduled to run out in a little over two weeks.
We also know that furloughs and suspension of programs in other agencies affect veterans. Of the roughly 2.1 million federal employees, more than 600,000 are veterans. Many of them are already, or expect to be, furloughed. Also, as programs and services at other agencies are disrupted, it affects VA’s ability to receive the necessary information and support to deliver veteran services.
We know we will hear bad news today. Important VA operations have or will be suspended. Some veterans will not get what they are expecting, what they deserve, and most importantly, what they have earned. This may be a difficult conversation, but one we must have – openly, frankly and honestly.
But, amidst the bad news there is some good news. With VA’s medical accounts under advanced appropriations, the Veterans’ Health Administration is largely unaffected by the lapse in fiscal year 2014 appropriations. All medical facilities are open and operating under normal status. This will continue regardless of how long the current government shutdown lasts.
It is clear now, in the midst of the shutdown, that getting a vote on H.R. 813, as amended, “The Putting Veterans’ Funding First Act,” is a necessary and critical step in ensuring veterans’ benefits and services are not put at risk when there is a lapse in appropriations. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you signing a letter with me to The Speaker asking for H.R. 813, as amended, to be scheduled for floor action immediately. I encourage all members of the Committee to sign onto our letter and send the message that veterans should not, cannot, and will not be disadvantaged by party politics in the future.
Mr. Secretary, I look forward to your testimony. With that Mr. Chairman, I yield back.