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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member, Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary Shinseki, I want to welcome you this morning, and I am looking forward to your testimony addressing the funding needs of the Department of Veterans Affairs for fiscal year 2013, and the agency’s advance appropriation recommendation for the Medical Care accounts for fiscal year 2014.   

I would also like to thank the representatives of the veterans service organizations who co-author the Independent Budget, and The American Legion, for presenting us with their views as to the resource requirements of the VA.  Every year this Committee relies on the veterans’ community to provide an important insight into the needs of the VA, and the pressing issues facing veterans and their families.  

Mr. Secretary, I applaud your budget request this year.  In a constrained fiscal environment your budget recognizes the reality of increased medical care costs and the importance of delivering the health care and benefits that our veterans have earned in a timely fashion.  If you tell this Committee that you need these funding levels, then I will commit to you that I will work with my colleagues to ensure you get it.  

In discretionary funding you request a 4.5 percent increase, and a 16.2 percent increase in mandatory funding, for an overall budget increase of 10.5 percent in 2013.  The majority of these discretionary funds have already been provided through advance appropriations.  I know this Committee will carefully assess your 2013 request, as well as the additional $165 million you are seeking to augment the amount already provided for the Medical Care accounts.

Budgets represent a choice, and provide a window into the priorities of the VA.  I believe many, if not all, of your priorities are the priorities of this Committee.  I remain concerned, however, that at the end of the day you have the resources you need to fulfill your mission.  In light of this, I believe we must ensure that your “operational improvements” and other cost-saving claims are actually realized.    We must ensure that your medical collections estimates are achievable.  And we must ensure that your workload estimates, especially workload projections for our returning servicemembers are accurate.

CBO recently released a report entitled “The Veterans Health Administration’s Treatment of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury Among Recent Combat Veterans.”  The report found that of those seeking care at VA, 28 percent of the OEF/OIF/OND cohort suffers from PTSD, TBI or both.  Treatment in the first year for these conditions can be four to six times greater than for those who do not have these conditions.  So while we have come a long way in the past 10 years, clearly there is much left to be done.

Over the years I have looked to the Independent Budget for guidance as we make the tough decisions necessary to fully fund the VA and to ensure that our budget priorities meet our national priorities and aspirations.  I look forward to hearing from the IB as to why they believe we need to add nearly $4 billion to the Administration’s request, including $1.5 billion for medical care for FY 2013. I also look forward to hearing the panel’s views as to the sufficiency of the Administrations advance funding request for FY 2014.

Mr. Secretary, we have all worked together over the years to increase funding levels for the VA to meet the needs of our veterans.  I am sure that we will do the same this year.  But as scripture informs us, “to who much is given, much is expected.”  I know that I speak for my colleagues on this Committee that we expect great results from you that will serve our veterans and their families.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back the balance of my time.