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Opening Statement of Hon. Jerry McNerney, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Disablity Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I would like to thank you for holding today’s hearing. 

This morning, we are considering seven pieces of legislation ranging from the claims process, appeals modernization and memorial issues at VA cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. 

However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the oddity of the 8:00 a.m. hearing hour and the frequent scheduling changes that preceded it--of at least five.  I hope that this high level of confusion and frequency of changes can be avoided in the future-- and that more consideration can be shown for our colleagues and our witnesses.

Today, we will consider two pieces of legislation that seek to make the VA claims process and the appeals process more efficient and effective for our nation’s veterans—specifically, the Veterans Appeals Improvement Act of 2011, H.R. 1484, introduced by the Ranking Democratic Member of the Full Committee, Mr. Filner, and your bill, Mr. Chairman, H.R. 1647, the Veterans’ Choice in Filing Act.

The provisions of Ranking Member Filner’s bill, aim to continue the successful process began with enactment of P.L. 110-389 of making positive changes to the way our veterans’ claims and appeals are handled by the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA), Appeals Management Center (AMC), Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), and Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).  Additionally, H.R. 1484 would also establish a Commission to examine some of the overarching and long-standing judicial and administrative issues that contribute to what many stakeholders refer to as the “hamster wheel.” I look forward to delving again into these issues with all of the stakeholders in a bipartisan manner.

I’d also like to address your legislation, Mr. Chairman, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011.  H.R. 1407, has my full support.  Many of the nearly 3 million veterans who receive these benefits depend upon these tax-free payments not only to provide for their own basic needs, but for those of their spouses, children and parents as well. We would be derelict in our duty if we failed to guarantee that those who sacrificed so much for this country receive benefits and services that fail to keep pace with their needs.

Finally, four of the remaining measures that we will consider today address memorial issues, H.R. 811, H.R. 1441, H.R. 1627 and H.Con.Res.12.   

I look forward to hearing from our DoD witnesses as we discuss the three measures relating to the placement of monuments and grave reservations at Arlington National Cemetery.  I also am pleased that we will have a chance to consider Ranking Member Filner’s bill, Providing Military Honors for our Nation’s Heroes Act, H.R. 811, which would help ensure that all our veterans receive the full burial honors that they deserve. It is critical that we honor our veterans’ service and sacrifice appropriately as they are laid to rest. 

During times of war, such as today, we must simultaneously ensure the proper compensation and support for our current veterans while also creating and implementing innovative solutions that will allow us to care for those who will become veterans of our current conflicts.  I think the bills under consideration today strike that balance.

Mr. Chairman, I thank my colleagues, Chairman Miller, Ranking Democratic Member Filner, and Mr. Weiner for introducing the other measures before us today.  I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses.

Thank you and I yield back.