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Ranking Member Bost Delivers Opening Remarks During First Committee Markup of the Year

This afternoon, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of today’s Committee markup of two bills, H.R. 6411, the STRONG Veterans Act, and H.R. 5575, as amended, the VA Nurse and Physician Assistant RAISE Act:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I hope that I can soon say this sitting side-by-side in our hearing room but, I am pleased to be here with you and our Committee colleagues to mark up the two measures before us.

Preventing veteran suicide and helping hard-working V.A. staff are two priorities of mine.

The pandemic, the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal, and rising inflation have made addressing those priorities harder than ever but also more important than ever.

That’s where the STRONG Veterans Act and the RAISE Act come into play.

I am proud to have introduced the STRONG Veterans Act alongside the Chairman two weeks ago.

That’s the right thing to do for veterans who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.

I have to acknowledge, however, that the STRONG Veterans Act is a very expensive proposal.

C.B.O.’s preliminary estimate is that the STRONG Veterans Act will have discretionary costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars over five years.

I have said it before and will say it again - our work must be fiscally-responsible.

This country is drowning in debt.

We cannot keep tying the hands of future generations with more and more bills we can’t pay.

That is not what veterans fought for.

And, these are their taxpayer dollars too.

That is why I would normally oppose a bill with such a high cost unless it was offset or otherwise addressed.

I am choosing not to do that today for two reasons.

The first is the urgency and importance of our work to stop veteran suicide.

The second is because the STRONG Veterans Act is part of work that the Chairman and I are doing alongside our Senate colleagues to come to a bipartisan, bicameral, fiscally-responsible agreement on omnibus veterans bills to send to the President’s desk.

We still have a long way to go to get to that goal.

Negotiations are very much ongoing.

One major factor still under discussion is how to pay for all the good work we would like to see signed into law.

Reporting the STRONG Veterans Act out of Committee today will allow us to continue discussing it as part of our larger omnibus negotiations.

I am committed to maintaining fiscal responsibility as we make decisions after today’s markup about moving legislation on the House Floor.

Mr. Chairman, our staffs have already discussed this but can I get your assurance that we will work together to account for the high costs of the STRONG Veterans Act as it moves forward in the legislative process?

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The other bill on our agenda today is the RAISE Act.

The RAISE Act would raise the salary cap for V.A. nurses and physicians assistants (P.A.s).

Nurses and P.A.s have performed life-saving work for veterans during this pandemic.

They have gone above and beyond during incredibly difficult circumstances.

I stand wholeheartedly in support of all of them.

I would love to support the RAISE Act today on their behalf.

Secretary McDonough called me personally a few weeks ago to advocate for the RAISE Act.

He told me that the RAISE Act will help V.A. be a more competitive employer, particularly in rural and high-cost areas.

And, that it will help ensure that V.A. medical facilities remain well-staffed to care for veterans across the country, which is a critical concern given the staffing challenges that the V.A. healthcare system, along with every other healthcare system, is facing right now.

I appreciate his honesty, his advocacy, and his forthrightness.

But, I cannot reconcile the need to pass a bill to help V.A. hire more healthcare workers at the same time as V.A. is preparing to fire potentially thousands of those same healthcare workers for not complying with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

If V.A.’s staffing challenges are so dire as to require the Secretary to personally advocate for quick passage of the RAISE Act to help V.A. recruit and retain staff, then V.A. should not even be considering firing a single V.A. employee for not getting the vaccine.

I support vaccines for anyone who wants one.

I am vaccinated myself.

But, I don’t support mandates.

And, I especially don’t support them when they will lead to staffing shortages.

Especially one that could put veterans at risk unless extraordinary action – in this case, quick passage of the RAISE Act – is taken.

V.A. can’t have it both ways.

Congressman Roy and I will offer amendments this afternoon to address our concerns about the conflicting messages V.A. is sending surrounding the vaccine mandate and the RAISE Act.

I hope that the Chairman allows us to debate our amendments.

And, I hope that they are adopted.

With that, I yield back.
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