Hon. Luis V. Gutierrez
Good afternoon, Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborn and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me to be here today to discuss my bill, H.R. 674, legislation to make the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans permanent. I have sponsored this legislation along Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who serves on this committee. As most of you know, current law mandates the termination of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans (ACMV) on December 31, 2009. This bill would simply repeal the provision of law that sunsets this important committee so that its critical work on behalf of minority veterans can continue.
The Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans operates in conjunction with the VA Center for Minority Veterans. This committee consists of members appointed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and includes minority veterans, representatives of minority veterans groups and individuals who are recognized authorities in fields pertinent to the needs of minority veterans.
The Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans helps the VA Center for Minority Veterans by advising the Secretary on the adoption and implementation of policies and programs affecting minority veterans, and by making recommendations to the VA for the establishment or improvement of programs in the department for which minority veterans are eligible.
The Committee has consistently provided the VA and Congress with balanced, forward-looking recommendations, many of which go far beyond the unique needs of minority veterans. In 2002, the Committee met in my hometown of Chicago and warned that in the Chicago regional office "it was mentioned that it was much easier to deny benefits than to grant benefits because of stringent requirements of VBA and Court of Appeal for Veterans Claims."
The Chicago Sun-Times later exposed that Illinois veterans ranked 50th in disability benefit compensation. That information sparked a campaign by the Illinois Congressional Delegation to rectify the situation. Since then, the VA Inspector General has issued his report and recommendations and the Secretary has pledged additional staff and resources to the Chicago regional office.
The Committee will also be needed in the future since the unique concerns of minority veterans will become increasingly important for our nation over the next decade.
Currently, 17 percent of the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are African-American, while 11 percent are Hispanic. The concerns of these veterans and others will not disappear on December 31, 2009, nor should the Committee that represents them. The Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans has helped our minority veterans from past wars with programs to address their concerns. We should not shortchange our newly returning soldiers by allowing this Committee's tenure to expire.
Many specific issues of concern to minority veterans need to be addressed further. Minority veterans confront the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse in greater numbers. Minority veterans suffer from a higher incidence of homelessness. Access to health care for Native American veterans is also a common problem. In addition, access to adequate job training is a difficulty for many minority veterans, a high percentage of whom qualify as low-income, category A veterans.
Unfortunately, discrimination and cultural insensitivity remain problematic for minority veterans at many VA facilities. The Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans still has a lot of work to do, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation to make this important Committee permanent.