Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Senator John Boozman
- Thank Commander James Koutz
- Thank the National Commander of the Auxiliary, Peggy Thomas
- Recognize the Arkansas members in attendance
o State Commander Mary Erdman.
o RD Kinsey
o Steve Gray
- Thank all members in attendance for coming to Washington on behalf of our Nation’s veterans
This is a very critical time for our nation’s veterans, so it is more important than ever for the Legion, and all of our veterans to be engaged with their representatives on the issues that are affecting them. I also appreciate the Commander’s testimony and look forward to working with them on many of their higher level goals that include economic opportunity for veterans, improving veterans’ healthcare and ending veterans homelessness, addressing looming budget cuts that could impact veterans and military families, and improving care for mental health care and treating TBI for our returning veterans.
All Americans are concerned about employment security, but our veterans in particular have been struggling to find long-term meaningful employment and careers. While we are going through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, Republicans and Democrats alike should put politics aside and work together to find common ground in providing our veterans with the tools they need to accomplish this goal. I agree with the Legion testimony that the “Vow to Hire Heroes Act” and the “Veterans Skills to Jobs Act” are steps in the right direction, and the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leadership and their staff deserve credit for their bi-partisan work in achieving those accomplishments. Yet there is more that we can do in a non-partisan manner, and even in these difficult times we can pay for those efforts without mortgaging the futures of our children and grandchildren by borrowing money to pay for it from countries like China. We owe this much to our veterans to honor their service and sacrifice.
That being said, the failure of last year’s Joint Deficit Committee has left us with looming arbitrary cuts to our National Defense, as well cuts to programs that support veterans and their families. The Constitution is clear that Congress’s primary obligation is to defend our nation. I am pleased that the House has passed legislation to avoid these impending cuts to national security and to provide certainty to our military families. The administration could also do more to clarify that sequestration will not hit veterans’ programs or negatively impact the delivery of veterans’ benefits. Unlike other government programs, we must always keep in mind that veterans’ benefits and programs are part of a sacred contract that guarantees these benefits for our veterans and their families in return for their selfless commitment and immeasurable sacrifice to protect this nation and its ideals.
- We must make it perfectly clear that we cannot, and will not, balance the budget and solve our fiscal problems on the backs of our men and women in uniform and their families!
We also need to make sure that the VA has the tools, policies, and resources to see that our veterans are receiving their benefits, accurately determined, in a timely manner that provides our military families with the treatment and certainty they need to thrive and succeed. The current backlog of claims at the VA is a black-eye on this nation, and doesn’t do justice to our appreciation for our veterans and their sacrifice. We are working to make progress on all fronts. On September 12th, the Senate Veterans Committee unanimously passed bi-partisan legislation to improve mental health care and suicide prevention for our veterans, and I appreciate Chairwoman Murray and Ranking Member Burr for their leadership and hard work on that legislation. This is particularly important for our veterans in rural areas, and I appreciate them for including language from legislation that I have been working on with Senator Franken to improve the VA’s Office of Rural Health to form a more strategic plan for improving access and quality of health care for veterans in rural areas. Also included in that bill was a provision that reflected work that Senator Begich and I have been doing to ensure that female veterans fleeing domestic violence have access to Veterans’ Homeless services. I appreciate the inclusion of this provision as well, and appreciate the Legion’s work to serve as a voice for the increasing number of female veterans who will be relying on the VA for a variety of issues when they return from the battlefield. We’re also working on bipartisan legislation to improve the Transition Assistance Program and improve other VA programs, and I am confident that Chairman Miller, Chairwoman Murray, Ranking Member Burr, and all members of Congress are committed to working together in a non-partisan manner to ensure that we uphold all of the promises that have been made to our servicemembers and their families.
I am very concerned about some of the reports we are receiving about military voter registration and participation. Recent Comments from General Dempsey, coupled with the failure of this administration and DoD to comply with the legal requirements of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires on-base voter registration assistance at every military installation, are very concerning to me. Then-General George Washington is noted for saying “When we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen” and we must do everything in our power to ensure that every servicemember is encouraged, and has the ability, to exercise our most fundamental civic duty that they have risked their lives to defend. With the leadership of Senator Cornyn, 21 of my Senate colleagues and I sent a letter on September 20th to General Dempsey expressing these concerns, and we are eager to receive a response.
Finally, the Senate should pass legislation to ensure that our disabled veterans receive a COLA, and ensure that COLA is not delayed. The House passed their legislation to address this issue back on July 9th. This is not something that should be left for the last minute to be garbled up with a bunch of other bills in the eleventh hour before Senators leave to go campaigning. Reports of a ‘secret hold’ or a filibuster on this bill are inaccurate, and it is cleared for passage any time Senator Reid wants to bring it up. We should pass this legislation as soon as possible.
We have never, and should never, use our veterans as political footballs. With so much going on that divides us in Congress, doing good work for our veterans is something we have always supported in a non-partisan manner. With much work to be done, with strong non-partisan leadership from Chairman Miller, Chairwoman Murray, and Ranking Member Burr, I am confident that Congress will put the needs of our veterans first and we will get done what-needs-to-be-done, to ensure that we are upholding all of the promises that have been made to our servicemembers, our veterans, and their families.