Opening Statement of Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Indiana
Thank you Chairman Filner and Chairman Akaka for holding this hearing, and I thank my colleagues from both Houses of Congress for their attendance this morning.
I would like to welcome all of the commanders and presidents joining us today. Mr. Tom McGriff, National Commander, American Veterans (AMVETS); Mr. Robert W. Fletcher, National Commander, American Ex-Prisoners of War; Mr. Tom Poulter, National Commander, Military Order of the Purple Heart; Mr. Jerry L. Sweeney, National President, Fleet Reserve Association; Mr. Patrick Corbett, National President, The Retired Enlisted Association; Ms. Rose Lee, Chair, Government Relations Committee, Gold Star Wives; Colonel Ana R. Smythe, USMC (Ret.), Deputy Director, Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America; and Mr. John Garcia, President, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs.
I am also pleased to welcome several fellow Hoosiers joining us this morning. From AMVETS Department of Indiana, State Commander David MaAfee; 1st Vice-Commander, Les Compton; National Executive Committeemen Paul Maiden; and Alternate National Executive Committeemen Donald Barnes.
From the Indiana Department of the Sons of AMVETS, State Commander Kraig Piper; Past National Provost Marshall Robert Hummert; Departmental Inspector General Donald Derringer along with his wife Rosie Derringer, who is the National Provost Marshall of the Ladies Auxiliary.
I am happy to hear all of your testimony but what bothers me is the timeliness of this testimony. None of you had more access to this committee than in the last Congress. Last year, those of you sitting before us, along with 13 other VSOs and MSOs, were given an opportunity to give your input on the budget before the Committee submitted its views and estimates.
Unfortunately, we submitted our views and estimates for this year a little over a month ago and Congress will be debating the budget resolution this week. The only group we had the opportunity to hear testimony from before we submitted our budget was the DAV.
Mr. Chairman, I hope you will continue our “look back, look ahead” hearing that we started last September, where 20 VSOs and MSOs were given the opportunity to testify before the Committee. I believe that the Committee needs to hear from these groups before we submit the budget and not after.
Secretary Nicholson has taken ownership of his budget and I am overall very happy with the request. It is a good request, and reflects that we are a nation at war. I recognize that this war brings new challenges to our newest veterans, and I am ready to face these challenges head on.
This is why, in the Republican Alternative budget, that I spoke on floor last night about and we are voting on this afternoon, we recommended additional funding to help our newest veterans, while still being cognoscente of the promises made to veterans from prior eras. We recommended the following areas for increased funding above the President’s request.
- $147.5 Million in VBA Programs
- 1,000 FTE for C&P
- Rules Based System
- Mobile Claims Centers
- Intergovernmental partnerships
- $1.3 billion more for medical services including:
- $463 million more for increasing demands on the VA health care system.
- $200 million for mental health care.
- $100 million more for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom veterans.
- $100 million for chiropractic care
- $100 million for dental care
- $80.2 million for long-term care
- $50 million more than the administration for poly-trauma care
- $65 million for prosthetic and sensory aids.
- $25 million for blind rehabilitation.
Republicans also would provide nearly $100 million more than the administration’s request for medical and prosthetic research, and we fund $1.4 billion above the administration’s budget for VA construction and facilities.
Included in this is $1.4 billion is $585 million for improving our current medical facilities and additional $691.7 million to support a substantial investment for the construction, renovation and planning and design of major medical facility projects, and $120 million for gravesite expansion in the National Cemetery Administration.
We also must strive to make sure that there is a seamless transition between DoD and the VA. This issue has been highlighted by the disgraceful conditions at Walter Reed.
Seamless transition is not a new problem and is something that I have been advocating about for years. Even one veteran who falls through the cracks is one to many.
That is why I am happy that the Armed Services Committee has included amendments to the Wounded Warriors Bill H.R. 1538. That would do the following:
- A written transition plan for the servicemember.
- A bi-directional, interoperable exchange of critical medical information in real time.
- A uniform separation and evaluation physical to be used by VA and DoD.
- The co-location of VA benefit teams at military treatment facilities and other agreed upon sites to facilitate the transition of recovering servicemembers.
- Pre-separation counseling for recovering servicemembers.
- Requires the transmittal of the recovering servicemember’s record will occur no later than the date of separation or retirement.
It is my hope that these amendments will bridge the gap between DoD and VA. Many of VA’s current problems could be solved if we had a seamless transition system that worked.
Thanks once again to our witnesses for your testimony, and I yield back.