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Hon. John J. Hall, Chairman, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Good Morning,

I would first like to say that I am honored to join Mr. Michaud in co-chairing this hearing and I applaud the leadership he exercises on behalf of our veterans, particularly on veteran healthcare issues.

I would also like to thank the witnesses for joining the two Subcommittees this morning for a hearing to examine issues facing women and minority veterans.  I think this rare joint hearing speaks volumes about how important these issues are to the Committee as whole and I look forward to hearing from all of today’s witnesses. 

Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population, comprising 7 % of the total veteran population and 5% of those using VA health services. 

Over 14% of veterans are from a racial or ethnic minority group with Blacks comprising the bulk at 9.7% (2000 U.S. Census figures). 

I am certain that the VA does its best to ensure that all veterans encounter no barriers to access in the receipt of VA benefits, treatment and services. 

However, the fact remains that the barriers in the society at large that women and minorities often face, might very likely translate into barriers in the smaller VA system. 

As such, Congress in its wisdom developed both the Center for Minority Veterans and the Center for Women Veterans in 1994 to ensure that these veterans are fully integrated in the VA system. 

I look forward to hearing from both Centers, as well as their separate Advisory Committees, which develop detailed reports which help to inform the policies of the VA for women and Minority veterans. 

I especially would like to learn the VA’s and the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans’ views on the sunsetting provisions that would end the Advisory Committee in 2009 and what if any plans it has to replace this vital organization.  I know representative Gutierrez has introduced a bill, H.R. 674 that would prevent this from occurring. Getting rid of the Minority veterans’ Advisory Committee would be a seriously troubling result in light of recent findings by VA researchers that health disparities appear to exist in all clinical arenas and have a direct impact on the health outcomes for minority veterans.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I welcome my colleague Congresswoman Heather Wilson, the only woman veteran in Congress.

I am sure all of our witnesses, including our experts and the VSOs, will provide critical insight on issues facing women and Minority veterans, especially in light of returning OIF/OEF veterans.

Thank you.