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Opening Statement of Honorable Michael H.Michaud

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

The purpose of today’s hearing will be to explore the policy implications of seven bills before us today which cover a wide range of topics that would expand and enhance VA’s health care programs and services.  To allow maximum time for discussion, I will limit my opening remarks primarily to H.R. 1460, H.R. 3016, and H.R. 3279.

H.R. 1460, offered by Mr. Owens of New York, instructs the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the VA, to automatically enroll veterans returning from combat zones into the VA medical system, while providing a chance to opt-out of the system both at the time of separation from the Armed Services and 6 months following.

In 2008, Public Law 110-181 was enacted, which extended the eligibility period for free VA medical care from 2 to 5 years for veterans who served in a combat theater of operations after November 11, 1998.  This applies to active duty, National Guard, and Reserve servicemembers returning from recent conflicts for conditions that may be related to their combat service. Following this initial 5-year period, these veterans may continue their enrollment in the VA health care system, but they may be subject to applicable copayments for nonservice-connected conditions.  

H.R. 1460 does not create new classes of veterans eligible for free VA health care, but simply changes the process by which these veterans would become part of the system upon separation from the DoD.  This legislation would ensure that combat veterans are able to seamlessly receive VA health care services upon their separation from the military.   

Next, H.R. 3016, introduced by Mr. Barrow of Georgia, a Member of the Full Committee, would improve reintegration efforts and require that the Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP) operate jointly under both DoD and VA.  This legislation follows up on two Subcommittee hearings held on this issue last year, where we discussed the continuing problems between the VA and DoD in working collaboratively.  I still do not feel confident that VA and DOD can overcome existing barriers and the tangle of bureaucracy that seems to surround the implementation of this program.  H.R. 3016 is intended to ensure that the FRCP moves forward in a more efficient and effective manner.  

Finally, H.R. 3279, sponsored by Mr. Reyes of Texas, a Member of the Subcommittee, would clarify that caregivers for veterans with serious illnesses are eligible for assistance and support services provided by the VA.  This legislation also follows up on two Subcommittee hearings held on this issue last year, where we examined the delays in the rollout of the implementation plan, next steps, and the narrowing of criteria for eligibility of these benefits.  

When Public Law 111-163, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, was enacted on May 5, 2010, the legislation required the VA to evaluate the program at 2 years.  With this benchmark quickly approaching, I am interested in hearing more about the potential to expand this program to caregivers for veterans with serious illnesses— not just those who are seriously injured— as certain mental health conditions do require the full supervision of a family caregiver.  I believe this change will expand the criteria for eligibility of these benefits to be more in line with the original intent of Congress.  

I look forward to hearing the views of our witnesses on the bills before us today.

Madam Chair, I yield back.