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Opening Statement of Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Repubican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Indiana

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

The British philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill once wrote:

"War is an ugly thing, not the ugliest of things, the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse.  A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." 

We are here today to discuss the cost of taking care of those “better men.”   In the current environment, some become lost in the heated political rhetoric and complexities of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby emotionally using veterans’ issues to pull people into the trap of just simply feeling sorry for the men and women who fight. 

For many, this is easier than understanding their military duties and the realities of soldier’s lives after they return home.

To my colleagues I would say our men and women in uniform who fight are not victims of the current conflict.  Each and every one of them is a volunteer who swore and oath to defend this country.  As one Army officer stated recently “I’m a warrior.  It’s my job to fight.”  This is the statement of a hero – not a victim.  As we look to take care of our returning military personnel, we need to admire and respect them for who they are and what they have done – not treat them like a victim class who require our pity.

Our duty here today is to explore the costs and the options for taking care of these heroes.

At the end of the day, that is the primary, bipartisan mission of this Committee.  It has always been so.  In 2005 during my chairmanship, we discovered at significant budget shortfall at the VA and rapidly moved to eliminate that shortfall.  This year, our current chairman worked to increase VA discretionary spending.   Today, however, that funding in the VA-MILCON Appropriations Bill is being held up for partisan purposes and used as leverage to pass other appropriations bills.  Seventeen days past the fiscal New Year, I would urge the Chairman and his colleagues to rapidly move to pass the VA-MILCON Appropriations bill in an expeditious manner so that our veterans can get the funding they need for FY 2008 – Republicans have appointed conferees.

Today, we have a new challenge before us.  The current compensation and disability system needs to be reformed.  This is the message we’ve heard from our veterans and confirmed by the findings of the Dole-Shalala Commission and the Disability Commission.  These reforms cannot wait.  Yesterday, the White House officially submitted their recommendations to the Congress.  It is out turn to act. 

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are prepared to act and have many parts incorporated in the Wounded Warriors provisions of the bill.  In CQ Today, it states, Mr. Chairman, you intend to do it next year in a separate bill.  Please explain?

In war, pacifism and defeatism have never been American values.  Neither should we give in to defeat and sit passively by in the face of the challenge before us.  Mr. Chairman, I urge you and all my colleagues to move ahead with reforming the compensation and disability system this year and not wait until next year.   The “better men” and women among us deserve no less. 

 Thank you, I yield back.