March 04, 2020

Chairman Takano: “I thank the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other VSOs for holding the line.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) delivered opening remarks before the joint hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs entitled “Joint Hearing of Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs: Legislative Presentation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.” A link to the video Chairman Takano’s opening statement and remarks as prepared can be found below.

Full video of the Chairman’s remarks

Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:

Good morning everyone. I am honored to be here with Chairman Moran, Senator Tester, Ranking Member Roe and all the members of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs. Today we will hear the testimony from the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Before we get started, I would like to recognize all our guests from my home state of California. Will all our Californians please stand or raise their hand. Welcome!

These annual hearings are critical so Congress can hear directly from organizations that work with and support veterans and their families every day. This work provides insights into the challenges faced by veterans, and opportunities for improving VA’s policies and programs. These committees rely heavily on the Veterans Service Organizations to provide the voice of the veteran, to highlight for us the issues that veterans are facing across the country. I am grateful to the VFW and the other VSOs, for providing us that insight.

I am heartened to see that we share many of the same priorities, not to steal your thunder but I would like to underscore just a few of those. Our veteran population is increasingly more diverse--we must support our women, LGBTQ, minority, and native American veterans. We MUST ensure that VA provides culturally competent care for ALL eligible veterans. We must ensure that VA provides a safe environment of care for veterans who may have experienced military sexual trauma and improve how VA evaluates claims related to those traumatic experiences.

As Chairman, I made reducing veteran suicide my number one priority and adopted a comprehensive, evidence-based framework to address this crisis from every angle. Our approach takes into account multiple factors that could reduce veteran suicide - everything from lowering economic burdens to increasing access to care and improving crisis intervention for those at higher risk.

Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 5697, The Veterans’ ACCESS Act, to ensure ALL veterans, regardless of their discharge status or eligibility for other VA healthcare benefits, have access to the emergency mental healthcare they need without ever seeing a bill. When a veteran is in crisis, worrying about how they will pay for their care should be the last thing on their minds. This legislation is the latest of many actions our Committee has taken, and I look forward to working with Chairman Moran, Ranking Member Tester, and Ranking Member Roe to pass this bill and save veterans’ lives.

We must also do better when it comes to caring for veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances in the course of their service. The DoD and VA must better track those exposures and be better prepared to treat those veterans when they leave the service. That is why I recently sent a letter with 77 of my colleagues pressing President Trump to take necessary corrective action and add four diseases to the Department’s presumption list that we know to be linked to Agent Orange exposure. This will ensure veterans can access crucial VA healthcare and disability benefits. We are still awaiting a response from the administration.

You identified concerns in multiple areas that speak to VA’s information technology infrastructure.  I agree that we must ensure that VA has the proper funding to ensure a 21st century technology infrastructure to support its multitude of systems. We must also ensure that VA updates that infrastructure and its aging IT systems while making wise use of taxpayer funds.

I thank the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other VSOs for holding the line, for taking care of America’s veterans, and for keeping Congress and the Administration accountable to those brave men and women.

I look forward to hearing your testimony and thank you for all the work you have done in service of veterans and their families.

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