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Opening Statement of Hon. Silvestre Reyes, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas

Thank you Chairmen Miller and Murray, Ranking Members Filner and Burr for calling this joint session of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees.   And thank you to all of the members of the panel for joining us today.  As you may be aware, we hold these joint hearings with veterans’ organizations because the views of your organizations are important to us.  Each and every one of you provides us with a unique prospective on the issues facing our veterans.

Today is a special day.  Thirty-six years ago today, the last American troops left South Vietnam.  As a Vietnam Veteran myself, I commend our colleagues in the Senate for designating today “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.”  Hopefully, in the coming days, the House will be able to do the same.  Unfortunately, even though we are able to welcome every veteran back to the United States, there are still thousands of veterans who do not have a home.  In addition, there are many thousands more who are still not getting treatment for ailments resulting from Agent Orange.  Today, almost four decades after the last service members came home, instances of homelessness, mental illness, and suicide among veterans still far outpace that of the general population. 

It is my concern, and I am sure it is the concern of every member of our two committees, that many of the issues plaguing our nation’s bravest men and women could have been prevented. The Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as state and local organizations, have many programs that could help prevent these veterans’ hardships.  Regrettably, many veterans cannot access these benefits due to the backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This is why I have spoken with Secretary Shinseki on many occasions and stressed the need to digitize VA records and streamline VA enrollment. 

I believe that this is the first step in ensuring that the needs of every veteran are met.  I thank you again for your dedication, and I hope that, by working together with your organizations, we can continue efforts to ensure that no American veteran is left without the care and support they deserve.