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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Thank you, Chairman Sanders.

And good morning Commander – and to all VFW members who are here today.   

It is truly an honor for me to be here this morning with so many VFW members.

I want to extend a special welcome to your Commander-in-chief, Mr. John E. Hamilton, a decorated Vietnam veteran from my home state of Florida.

Or should I call you by your professional wrestling name….Johnny Montana.

In all seriousness sir, thank you for your years of service, for your leadership, and for your presentation today.

I also want to welcome Ms. Leanne Lemley(lEM-LEE), the National President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.  

Ma’am, thank you for being here and for all of the good work that the Auxiliary does for our veterans.

Finally, I would like to recognize the VFW members from my home state of Florida who are in our audience today.

Ladies and Gentlemen would you please raise your hands. Thank you.

Each of you is a credit to your community and I am proud to have you here in our nation’s Capitol.

Commander, our work begins with your testimony today and, after reading your written statement, there can be no doubt that you have much to be proud of.

I was especially pleased to read that your members annually contribute over eight and half million hours of volunteerism in our communities.

I have witnessed many of these efforts firsthand and am personally grateful to each of your volunteers for the hard work they do across the country.

I am also grateful for the hard work VFW does right here in Washington.

In my two years as Chairman - hand-in-hand with VFW and our other veterans service organization partners - we have:

- reduced veteran unemployment and provided retraining assistance benefits to ninety-nine thousand unemployed veterans;

- ensured the safety of veteran patients and VA employees by strengthening protections against sexual assault and other safety incidents at VA medical facilities; and,

- conducted close oversight of VA’s disability claims process, major and minor construction programs, and its mental health care system.  

Throughout these efforts and many more, VFW’s support, advice, and encouragement have been invaluable.  

I want to personally thank the VFW for your strong support of the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act.

The bill, originally introduced by my good friend Mr. Bilirakis, will help veterans make the right decisions about how to best use their GI Bill education benefits.  

Without Bob Wallace, and his legislative staff’s hard work, that bill may never have become law and I thank them for their efforts.

While we have much to be proud of, our work together has just begun.  

I would like to ask for your support in advancing a bill - H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 - that I have introduced with Ranking Member Michaud.

This legislation would offer public colleges and universities a choice: either charge veterans in-state tuition rates or no longer be eligible to enroll student veterans under the GI bill.

It is time that public colleges and universities stop balancing their budgets on the backs of student veterans and I am hopeful that you will join in supporting this bill.

Another area where I know we agree concerns the importance of the timely and predictable funding of VA programs and services.

Seemingly endless continuing resolutions and the near-constant threat of government shutdown appear to be new facts of life surrounding our budget process.

That is why last week Ranking Member Michaud and I introduced H.R. 813 the “Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013” which will provide for an advance appropriation for all VA accounts.

We cannot allow our veterans and the programs that serve their needs to be threatened when Washington can’t do its job.  

This bill will ensure that VA accounts are funded a year in advance to ensure that a timely, predictable budget is in place.

I appreciate the VFW’s support for this legislation and I encourage you all to speak to your members about this bill when you meet with them this week.

Commander Hamilton, I want to thank you for being here today and I look forward to your testimony.