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Opening Statement of Honorable Mike Coffman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Good afternoon.  This hearing will come to order.

I want to welcome everyone to today’s legislative hearing on:

•    H.R. 1490, The Veterans’ Privacy Act;

•    H.R. 1792, The Infectious Disease Reporting Act; and

•    H.R. 1804, The Foreign Travel Accountability Act.  

The three bills we will consider today are the result of investigations conducted by this Subcommittee in the course of its oversight duties that have revealed poor judgment and mismanagement by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

These bills are intended to heighten the protections for our veterans at VA medical centers and prevent the recurrence of problems identified in the investigations.  

H.R. 1490, the Veterans’ Privacy Act, was introduced by the Chairman of the Full Committee, Representative Jeff Miller.  The bill directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to prescribe regulations to ensure that, in the absence of informed consent by the patient or their legal representative, any visual recording can only be conducted under limited circumstances such as under court order.

In April, I introduced H.R. 1792, the Infectious Disease Reporting Act.  Based on investigations conducted by this Subcommittee, as well as a hearing in February it is clear that VA needs to be held to the same standard for infectious disease reporting as its healthcare counterparts in each state.  

The Infectious Disease Reporting Act will require VA facilities nationwide to comply with state infectious disease reporting requirements.  Once reported to the state, this data will be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and used to monitor public health.  Each state faces its own unique challenges regarding infectious diseases and the Infectious Disease Reporting Act takes this into account.  It is baffling to me that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hospital, which sits just a few hundred feet from the Pittsburgh VA medical center, is required to report infectious diseases while the VA hospital is not.

The news reports from Pittsburgh this past weekend detailing the extent of the Legionella problem and that it dates as far back as 2007 underscore the need for this legislation.  The fact that VA provided information to reporters that this Subcommittee has been requesting since January is unacceptable.  This lack of transparency looks like an attempt to evade legislative oversight and makes me wonder whether there is more to this story than what VA has chosen to reveal.

The need for the infectious disease reporting act is reflected not just in the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in Pittsburgh.  Just last month almost twenty veterans tested positive for hepatitis A or B after a VA hospital in Buffalo admitted to reusing insulin pens on patients.

Time and again we have heard from VA that they are industry leaders in various areas, but in infectious disease reporting, VA doesn’t even compete.  

Our final bill today is H.R. 1804, the Foreign Travel Accountability Act, which was introduced by Congressman Tim Huelskamp, a member of this Subcommittee.  This bill directs the Secretary to submit to Congress semiannual reports on foreign travel.  The reports will include, among other things, the purpose each trip, the destination, the total cost to the Department.  

In January, after VA told him the State Department may have records on VA foreign travel, Chairman Miller sent a request to the State Department for more information.  Just last week he received the State Department’s two sentence reply which referred him back to VA.  This ridiculous finger pointing clearly exhibits the need for this legislation.

It is important that taxpayer dollars appropriated to VA are properly spent on providing the care and benefits our veterans have earned.  Not sending VA employees abroad on taxpayer subsidized vacations that do little to improve the care veterans receive.

I appreciate everyone’s participation in today’s hearing and now yield to the Ranking Member for her opening statement.