Chairman Takano Gives Opening Remarks before the Legislative Presentation of Multiple Veterans Service Organizations
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) delivered opening remarks before the Legislative Presentation of Multiple Veterans Service Organization at the Joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing. Organizations testifying included: AMVETS, PVA, VVA, IAVA, SVA, AXPOW, and WWP. Below is a link to the video of the Chairman’s opening statement and his remarks as prepared:
Good afternoon and welcome everyone to the House and Senate Joint Hearing to receive the legislative presentation of American Ex-Prisoners of War, American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Wounded Warrior Project.
I am honored to be here with Chairman Isakson and with Senator Tester and Ranking Member Roe, and all members of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs.
I would like to thank our witnesses for being here today and to thank them for the work they do on behalf of veterans in this country. This group represents many generations of veterans and interests, but they – and we – are united in the common goal of improving outcomes, creating opportunities, and ensuring that veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear from this group of engaged organizations. I also want to thank veterans joining us here today and those that are watching from home.
I’d also like to specifically recognize organization members from my home state of California. Will the members from California please stand or raise your hand to be recognized. Welcome!
Last week the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee had the opportunity to hear from Secretary Wilkie about the current state of VA and the vision for the future of VA. The Committee has called this vision “VA 2030.” VA2030 means we are engaged in an effort to establish the best possible VA, and to determine the tools and resources its needs to serve ALL veterans, no matter the generation or the conflict in which they served. This also means strengthening and improving VA for generations of veterans to come.
Today I look forward to hearing from this diverse group of Veterans Service Organizations about the challenges you foresee and the priorities you have for VA now and in the future. I know we share many of these priorities.
I will speak to a few of the Committee’s key priorities now, but I look forward to an engaging discussion today and throughout the 116th Congress about your concerns.
Addressing veteran suicide is a critical priority for the Committee. Last week Secretary Wilkie pledged to spend every last dollar available to tackle this issue. This week the President issued a new Executive Order creating a task force to address veteran suicide. I certainly welcome an aggressive and sustained approach, but I am concerned about half-measures. If we keep starting new programs and not fully implementing them, we will never see real and lasting results. I think it is important to work with the veteran community and assess what is working now and expand on it.
We must use innovative ways to conduct outreach and engage with individuals so that no veteran believes that she or he is alone – we are ready and willing to help.
Another top priority is providing healthcare and disability benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange. It is long past time for Congress to pass H.R. 299. Last week, at the Committee’s hearing I asked Secretary Wilkie to tell me whether the Administration will appeal the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s decision to extend these benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans. I also asked him to inform me if Blue Water Navy veterans eligible for disability benefits after the court’s decision will be able to receive healthcare at VA medical facilities.
I am waiting for a response from the Secretary, but veterans should not be made to wait. Congress must act now.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is committed to addressing the specific challenges faced by our women veterans and we have formed a task force dedicated to developing and promoting policies that support women veterans and their healthcare needs, as well as ensuring their successful transition out of service. We want to ensure that veterans’ status is a supportive place for our women servicemembers and that they have the full ability to access their benefits and opportunities.
Economic opportunity – whether that is education, career, owning a small business, or homeownership – is something this Committee wants to promote and strengthen. This can be done in small and big ways. We need to close the 90-10 loophole. We need to ensure that VA has efficient and functional systems in place to process benefits and ensure that veterans don’t experience delays in receiving them. VA needs to improve and innovate its technology in many areas, but we will be paying particular attention to GI Bill implementation.
While I touched on just a few of the issue areas that are important to you and your membership, I am committed to helping advance your priorities in the coming year.
I look forward to hearing your testimony today and thank you again for your tireless advocacy for the veteran community.
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