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 afternoon.
I want to welcome you Commander Barton, and thank you for your service to our nation and for you testifying this morning. As a fellow Hoosier you understand the importance of hard work and service to our country, and I recognize that. I also would like to extend welcome to your members here today, and thank them for coming. I especially would like to welcome fellow Hoosiers; Mr. Joseph Eckerle, State Commander, Indiana,Mr. Donald Peek, chair of the legislative committee, Mr. Michael Whelihan, the department of Indiana adjunct, Mr. Tony Craig, senior national service officer, Mr. Jim Thurau (Thor-row), Senior Vice Commander, and Finally Mr. Eric McGinnis, State Sergeant at Arms. Thanks to all of you for your service.
During the last Congress in a bipartisan fashion we passed P.L. 109-461 which:
- Authorized 24 major construction projects in 15 states
- Authorized $98 million for a new medical facility in Denver, CO
- Authorized $36.8 million for advance planning of a collaboration project between the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., and the adjacent Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)
- Expanded tele-health initiatives which are invaluable to rural veterans
- Expanded the number of community-based outpatient clinics.
- Approved leases on 10 medical facilities
- Authorized VA to explore options for a new medical center in San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Added $65 million for PTSD clinicians and their training
- Authorized $2 million for additional blind rehabilitation specialists and increases the number of facilities where these specialist will be located
- Expanded the eligibility for spouses of totally disabled servicemembers who are still on active duty for the Department of Education’s educational assistance.
- Made Chapter 35 more flexible for spouses and dependents.
- Restored work study and entitlement of the members of the National Guard and Reserve who are called to active duty during the school year.
- Authorized VA to allow co-op housing units, a more affordable alternative for veteran home buyers.
- Has VA provide veterans with fraud alerts, credit monitoring services, and credit identity insurance for all veterans.
- Established a VA Information Security Education Assistance Program to encourage the recruitment and retention of Department personnel who have information security skills necessary to meet Department needs.
DAV has been a strong voice, and an effective advocate for their members and veterans everywhere. For years, the DAV has helped thousands of veterans with their many programs. The largest of which is the use of their national veteran service officers in representing veterans before the VA in the claims adjudication process. They provide an invaluable service in helping cut through the red tape, and making sure that every veteran is provided with the compensation to which they are entitled.
As you have stated in your written testimony, your veteran service officers have helped 188,000 veterans and their families in the last year, and I commend them for doing so.
I was happy to learn about the expansion of DAV’s Mobile Service Offices. DAV has ten of these centers bringing NSOs to underserved rural and inner city populations. I am confident that these offices will continue to serve this population, and I hope to see this program expanded so all of our veterans can have access to the important services the NSOs provide, regardless of their geographic location.
I am aware of the DAV’s long standing tradition of donating new vans to the VA to transport veterans to and from medical appointments. The DAV has donated almost 1,800 of these vans since 1987 and they have proved to be an invaluable resource to the VA and veterans with disabilities.
In reading your testimony Commander, I understand your frustration with the attorney representation provision in P.L. 109-461. I also have reservations about allowing attorney’s into the claims process.
However, I am willing to give this provision, some time to either prove itself or reveal any weaknesses. As with any legislative innovation, we will be attentive to any unintended consequences. We will be especially watchful to ensure that veterans are being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve by those who represent them.
Mr. Chairman as we begin this session we must look to the priorities of the Committee. My top priorities, as ranking Republican member, remain:
· Caring for veterans who have service-connected disabilities, those with special needs, and the indigent.
· Ensuring a seamless transition from military service to the VA.
· And providing veterans every opportunity to live full, and healthy lives.
These, then, are my priorities, and I look forward to hearing those of the DAV. Thank you once again for your testimony Commander, and I yield back.