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Opening Statement of Honorable Jeff Miller Chairman, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs U.S. House of Representatives

“Challenges in Rural America: VA Access and Mental Health Care”

 

August 6, 2014

 

 

Good morning and thank you for joining us today.

 

I am Jeff Miller – Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the United States House of Representatives and Congressman from the First District of Florida, where – as we like to say – thousands live like millions wish they could.

 

I am joined here today by senior Committee Member and the Congressman from the Fifth District of Colorado, Doug Lamborn, and by our friend and colleague and your Congressman, Steve Pearce.

 

I know I speak for Rep. Lamborn (Doug) as well when I say that I am grateful to Rep. Pearce (Steve) for his hard work, leadership, and advocacy efforts on behalf of New Mexico’s servicemembers and veterans.

I am grateful to him for inviting us to New Mexico today and am honored to be here in Roswell with all of you.

 

Before I go any further, I would ask all of the veterans in our audience today to please stand, if you are able, or raise your hand and be recognized?

 

Thank you so much for your service.

 

Ensuring that you – and your veteran friends, neighbors, and colleagues in New Mexico and across the country– have timely access to high-quality health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is why we are here today and I am grateful to you for joining us this morning.

 

As you all know, in April, a Committee investigation and whistleblower revelations exposed widespread corruption and systemic access delays and accountability failures across the VA health care system that left thousands of veterans – including some right here in New Mexico – waiting for weeks, months, and even years for the health care they earned through honorable service to our nation.

 

In the four months since, the Committee has held multiple hearings to get to the bottom of the Department’s deficiencies; VA senior leaders have resigned and been replaced; and, nationwide initiatives have been put undertaken.

 

Just last week, Congress passed a bipartisan Conference agreement that will improve accountability for VA employees; increase access to care for veterans facing lengthy waiting times for VA patients or residing far from the nearest VA facility; and pave the way for long-term reforms that will dramatically improve the Department for veterans today and for generations to come.

 

Needless to say, it has been a busy summer.

 

However, our work is just beginning.

 

During today’s hearing, we will discuss the challenges Roswell veterans experience accessing care - particularly mental health care – through Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) eighteen and the New Mexico VA Health Care System.

 

In short, things could certainly be better.

 

VA’s nationwide access audit found troubling scheduling practices were in place at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center and I want to hear from our witnesses – local veterans and local VA officials – how those practices have impacted the care veterans receive here and what actions have been taken and still need to be taken to improve access to care for New Mexico veterans.

 

I look forward to our discussion this morning and to taking your thoughts and ideas back to Washington when we leave.   

I thank you all once again for being here this morning.