COMMITTEE ON VETERANS= AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES SENATE
THE LEGISLATIVE PRESENTATION OF
THE VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS
MARCH 7, 2006
216 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The Committee on Veterans' Affairs will now come to order.
It is my pleasure to welcome all of you here today. Commander Mueller, a special welcome to you, sir. You and your predecessors have been advocating for America's Veterans of Foreign Wars for over a century. I am very pleased that so many of you traveled great distances to carry on that tradition. I'd like to single out a few of your membership from my home state of Idaho who have made an especially long trek?
1. Patrick Teague, Idaho Department Commander;
2. Gary Ellis, Senior Vice Commander;
3. John Crotinger, Junior Vice Commander;
2. Bob Finney, Adjutant; and
3. Daniel Johnson, Quartermaster
Welcome fellow veterans from the Gem State!
I also want to recognize the National President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, Sandy Germany. Sandy, welcome?and thank you for the important work you do.
The past year has been an extremely gratifying one for me?my first as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. I sincerely believe that this Committee and its Members, while sometimes differing in approach, are all united in one, common mission: ensuring that our nation's veterans -- particularly veterans wounded in the line of duty -- receive the highest quality of health care and benefits that they need.
By any measure, we have had a busy and productive first session ? convening twenty-three hearings here in Washington, nine field hearings, and four markups. More importantly, Committee-related activity has led to several important accomplishments.
I'm going to single out one accomplishment in particular that deserves special attention because all of you were instrumental in securing its enactment.
About a year ago, I walked into my office to meet with three veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom: one was missing a leg; another was missing two legs; and the third had lost his sight. They asked that I push legislation to create a new insurance benefit for traumatic injuries such as theirs. Not for them, mind you. But for their fellow compatriots who were at that time rehabilitating at Walter Reed and for future severely wounded servicemembers.
I was impressed with their selflessness. I, with Senator Akaka on board, immediately took to the Senate floor with their proposal. The first major veterans' organization to actively and publicly endorse the "Wounded Warrior" legislation was the Veterans' of Foreign Wars. With your support, it was signed into law a few weeks later.
And here is the result we can all be proud of: As of Friday, VA has paid almost 1,500 traumatically injured servicemembers from OIF/OEF. These are young men and women with amputations, severe burns, total blindness, total deafness, paralysis, and a host of other disabilities ?.all of them sustained in defense of America. Going forward, "Wounded Warrior" insurance will meet the "gap" in financial help these heroes face during their convalescence.
On their behalf, I salute and thank you for your support!
Before I close, let me touch on what has consumed much of our attention of late?the fiscal year 2007 VA budget. I believe this record budget request is extraordinary and shows that in this fiscally austere climate, the President has chosen to make veterans, once again, a top budget priority.
That said, I am concerned that at present spending rates, VA's budget will double nearly every six years and will soon collide with spending demands in other areas of government. Although we may wish that VA funding existed in a vacuum, it simply does not.
As I'm sure everyone here is aware, the President has proposed one way for us to respond to these fiscal realities ? by asking priority 7 and 8 veterans -- with no service-related disabilities ? to contribute about $21 per month to enroll in the VA health care system and pay $15 for a thirty-day supply of medicine. Although I personally find these proposals to be reasonable, I know your organization has voiced opposition.
So, I will reiterate my hope that the VFW and others will engage this Committee in serious and candid discussions ? if not about the President's proposals, then about other options. It is our collective responsibility to sustain this incredible VA health care system into the future.
If we begin addressing these issues now, we can help ensure that future veterans will not be faced with even bigger challenges and more radical changes to meet those challenges. Personally, I do not want to pass this issue on to the next guy. I want to pass on to tomorrow's veterans what we have collectively created ? a health care system that provides quality care that is accessible to those who need it, but affordable to those who want it. I hope you agree with my goals and are willing to work with me and my colleagues in our efforts.
Before I introduce Commander Mueller, let me turn it over to Senator Akaka for any opening statement he may have. Senator Akaka?
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