Opening Statement of Hon. Timothy J. Walz, a Representative in Congress from the State of Minnesota
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee and guests, let me express what a true honor it is for me to serve on this distinguished committee. Having served 24 years in the Army National Guard and having deployed to Europe in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, I understand the need to keep our promise to America’s veterans. These brave men and women have admirably served their country with unflinching courage and valor. Crafting policy that serves their best interests is this committee’s chief goal, and so I sincerely express my eagerness to work with each of you to meet that important goal.
Today we turn our attention to the President’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget requests for the Department of Veterans Affairs and I want to thank the Secretary and other department officials for joining us here today. I also want to thank the leaders of the various veterans service organizations that are here today. Thank you for the work that you do on behalf of all of our nation’s veterans.
I am eager to listen to today’s testimony on the President’s budget request. While I am pleased to see a 6 percent increase in requested funding for VA medical care, a significant jump from the .4 percent increase requested for FY2006, I am concerned with some of the President’s proposals. The President’s request to increase pharmaceutical co-payments and to impose an enrollment fee on priority 7 and 8 veterans presents serious concerns. Furthermore, the President has proposed a cut to VA Medical and Prosthetic Research, a far cry from increases drastically needed by NIH and requested by the Independent Budget. Finally, while the size and increasing workload of the Department of Veterans Affairs would seem to require considerable funding increases for the Office of the Inspector General, the President’s budget has instead proposed only slight increases for oversight.
In conclusion, this budget request leaves me with important questions and concerns. I look forward to today’s testimony and to the opportunity to work with each of the members of this committee on the problems facing America’s veterans.