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Opening Statement of Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Health

The Subcommittee will come to order. 

Good morning. I want to begin by thanking all of those in attendance for joining us today at the first Subcommittee on Health hearing of the 112th Congress. 

I am honored to have been selected to serve as Chairwoman of this important Subcommittee and I am pleased that my friend, Mr. Mike Michaud of Maine was designated by his colleagues to serve as the Ranking Member.

Mr. Michaud has a distinguished history of support for our veterans and I look forward to working closely with him to ensure that those who have honorably served our Nation receive the highest quality care. I know he shares my conviction that that is the least we can do for those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedoms.

We are joined on the Health Subcommittee by:

Mr. Cliff Stearns of Florida,
Mr. Gus Bilirakis of Florida,
Mr. David Roe of Tennessee,
Dr. Dan Benishek of Michigan,
Mr. Jeff Denham of California,
Mr. Jon Runyan of New Jersey,
Ms. Corinne Brown of Florida,
Mr. Silvestre Reyes of Texas,
Mr. Russ Carnahan of Missouri, and
Mr. Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

I am heartened by the wealth of diversity, knowledge, and experience we have among us and I am confident that the work we do here will have a very real and positive impact of the daily lives of America’s brave veteran heroes and their loved ones - which brings us to the crux of the matter before us this morning. 

Each of us serves on this Committee because of our deep respect and heartfelt admiration for the service and sacrifices of American veterans. Each of us serves on this Subcommittee because we recognize the importance of ensuring that those same veterans have access to high quality medical care to help them cope with the wounds of war and readjust to civilian life. Each of us has respect for the VA health care system as it stands and a desire to make the system even better.

At the same time, we recognize that no matter how good a health care system is, it can only go so far. We can – and should – provide the highest quality care by the highest quality physicians and therapists in the highest quality facilities. But nothing can equal the support provided by a loving and loyal family member.  

Some of those family members are with us this morning. In our audience is Sarah Wade and Patty Horan. Sarah is a full time caregiver for her husband, Ted, who was injured in Iraq when his Humvee was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device. Patty is a full time caregiver for her husband, Pat, who suffered from a gunshot wound during service his in Iraq.

Sarah and Patty has been there for their husbands day in and day out through every up and every down. Because of their commitment, they have sacrificed jobs, hobbies, and free time.

Last year, Congress passed Public Law 111-163 to ensure that family caregivers like Sarah and Patty wouldn’t also have to sacrifice their financial stability or their own health.

Congress intended for these benefits to be available by January 30th of this year.  However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has failed to comply with the law and has yet to implement the caregiver assistance program.

Even more unfortunate, when VA finally released its initial implementation plan on February 9th, it was immediately met with consternation by lawmakers and stakeholders who raised serious concerns about the strict eligibility criteria and other issues, including the provision for respite care, mental health coverage, and in-home monitoring requirements.

It is my hope that during today’s hearing we will bring these issues to light and the necessary changes will be made by VA to ensure that the benefits Congress intended and veteran and family members expected are provided without further delay.

Again, I thank you all for being with us this morning. I look forward to a very productive discussion.

Mr. Michaud you are now recognized for any opening statement you may have.