March 06, 2019

Chairman Takano Gives Opening Remarks before the Legislative Presentation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) gave opening remarks before the Legislative Presentation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States at the Joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing.  Below is a link to the video of the Chairman’s opening statement and his remarks as prepared:

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Watch opening remarks here

 

Good Morning, Commander Lawrence.

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.

First I would like to thank Commander Lawrence for being here today and welcome every member of the VFW present in the room and those who couldn’t join us in person.

Commander, I want to begin by recognizing the tireless advocates who work every day on behalf of the VFW.  We rely on the local VFW chapters in our districts and states back home, and here in Washington DC to be the voice for the millions of veterans you represent throughout the country.  

I’d also like to specifically recognize members from my home state of California.  Will the members from California please stand or raise your hand to be recognized.  Welcome!

Commander, I would like to thank the VFW for your work on the Independent Budget, with the DAV and PVA.  It is clear from your latest version that while VA is receiving robust funding, there are certainly gaps to close and much work left to be done before we achieve our shared goals. 

I ask that the VFW continue to hold the Administration and Congress accountable and ensure both fulfill our nation’s promise to veterans.  We look to you to guide our work.

With your help, we have seen a lot of successes over the years, and we will need your continued input as we move through the 116th Congress.  Reading through your testimony, your concerns are my concerns, and the concerns of this Committee.

I appreciate that your first priority is my first priority, 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, and I agree: “Congress cannot fail these veterans again.”

Last week, during a hearing in which Secretary Wilkie testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on the state of VA, I asked Secretary Wilkie to update me on 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 tell 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.  Although we are waiting for a response from the Secretary, veterans should not be made to wait.  Congress must act.

During that hearing, I also asked Secretary Wilkie to discuss what needs to be done to achieve the Committee’s vision for VA 2030.

The Committee’s VA 2030 plan is simple:  it’s a future look at what the Committee envisions to be the ideal VA:  a VA ready to provide services and benefits to veterans no matter the generation or conflict in which they served. 

That starts with getting implementation of the Mission Act right so veterans can access care at VA hospitals and clinics and with community providers.

We share your similar concerns regarding access standards, a focus on health outcomes, and hiring and retaining providers and employees to fill the 48,985 vacancies at VA. 

The VFW’s voice must be heard during Mission Act implementation, and there must be an open, collaborative process.  Commander, I ask that today you provide us your candid views on implementation thus far.

I also ask you to continue to highlight and advocate for policies to address disparities in health outcomes for minority and LGBT veterans for Congress, the Administration, and the nation.  Please continue your passionate advocacy for utilization of benefits by veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma, VA’s progress on medical cannabis research, and healthcare services for former servicemembers with other than honorable discharges. 

I also share your disappointment that: “not a single piece of legislation became law in the 115th Congress to address the needs of women veterans.”  This must change in the 116th Congress.

The first veterans bill to pass the House of Representatives this Congress, was the “Veterans Access to Child Care Act.” 

It enables veterans with young children to see their VA provider without having to choose between making their appointments and finding and affording child care.

I would like to thank Ms. Brownley for her tireless work on that bill, and am excited to have her Chair the Health subcommittee and lead our Task Force on Women Veterans. 

With the help of our colleagues in the Senate, I expect the 116th Congress will far exceed the 115th Congress in addressing the needs of women servicemembers and veterans.  Women veterans need to know that today’s VA is here to serve them, and I urge my Senate colleagues to pass the Veterans Access to Child Care Act without delay.

VA must also take immediate action to address veteran suicide—and the alarming trend of veterans committing suicide in VA medical facility parking lots.  As the number one clinical priority of the VA, I am concerned that resources are not being spent to tell veterans and their families about the services VA provides.  I am also not sure if last year’s Presidential Executive Order had the impact we all were hoping for. 

I remain concerned that we, as a nation, are not addressing veterans in crisis who served in Vietnam, those not utilizing VA healthcare, and those who served in the National Guard and Reserve Components who never mobilized for deployment.

As I close, I would ask you to continue to work with and advise all of us here on the need for a fourth administration at VA. 

I hear your concerns about vocational rehabilitation, education services, and the transition assistance program not getting the attention and advocacy they deserve under the Veterans Benefits Administration.  I support the effort to provide a seat at the table within VA for these programs. 

They are vital to the success of our veterans once they leave the service.

However, having watched VA’s implementation of the Forever GI Bill, the Mission Act, and the Electronic Health Record, I have concerns about VA’s ability to implement a new administration without a detailed and well-developed plan.  I would like to work with you to further develop legislation to have VA create this plan, and inform Congress of the budgetary and personnel requirements necessary to execute the plan successfully, before the new administration is authorized.

Everyone in here agrees, one homeless veteran, one unemployed or underemployed veteran, one financially unstable veteran, is one veteran too many. 

Let’s figure out how to structure VA to empower employees to make the system work for these veterans, and structure VA to hold leadership accountable for improving veteran outcomes.

While I just touched on a few of the issue areas important to you and your membership, know that I am committed to helping advance your priorities in the coming year.  I began by saying, your priorities are this Committee’s priorities, and I mean that.

I look forward to hearing your testimony today and thank you again for your tireless advocacy on behalf of the veteran community. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I yield back the balance of my time.

 

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