Statement of Ranking Member Richard Burr
July 21, 2010
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to our witnesses. I appreciate you joining us to discuss an important topic – how we can improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill so it will work better for military personnel, veterans, and their families.
Before I discuss that, I want to comment on an on-going problem with getting information from the Department of Veterans Affairs. On Monday, I noted with interest that VA issued a press release touting “VA’s Commitment to Transparency” because it has updated its “Open Government Plan.”
I would tell the representatives from VA at this hearing that, while I think it is great that VA has made a commitment to transparency, I am much more interested in whether the agency is actually keeping these commitments. After all, keeping a commitment is the most important part. I hope this press release is an indication that VA will be more responsive to inquiries from this Committee.
As a primary example of VA’s lack of transparency to date, I would point to VA’s continued failure to answer my questions about VA’s fiscal year 2011 budget. After the Committee’s budget hearing in February, I sent over 300 questions to VA, asking for more information about portions of that budget.
It took three and a half months for VA to provide answers to the bulk of those questions. But, even then, many of the responses did not contain the information I had requested or required further clarification. So, nearly a month ago, I sent more than 30 follow-up questions.
To date, I have not received answers to over two dozen of my original questions about VA’s budget, and I haven’t received answers to any of my follow-up questions. On top of that, VA has not responded to a number of other requests for information, data, and briefings from my office.
Mr. Chairman, for this Committee to perform its oversight and legislative functions, we need the full cooperation of the Administration. Receiving accurate, timely, and candid responses from VA is essential to our efforts to improve the lives of veterans, their families, and their survivors.
I’ve asked each VA nominee if they would live up to that standard and all agreed. But, clearly, that is not what’s happening.
Mr. Chairman, this situation simply cannot be allowed to continue. I appreciate the efforts you have already made to help with this problem and hope we can continue to work together to find a solution.
As for the topic of today’s hearing, there is no doubt that the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides valuable benefits for many veterans and their families. But, as we will discuss today, this new program also has a number of shortcomings, including complexities, inequitable benefits, and technical flaws.
In fact, I have heard from veterans in North Carolina who are concerned that some Guard members are not eligible for these benefits, that veterans may not receive fair benefits if they attend school on-line, and that students taking vocational training programs might not receive any benefits at all.
Another North Carolinian was frustrated that he would have received more benefits if he had switched to the Post-9/11 GI Bill after using up his benefits under an older education program -- a pitfall VA did not help him avoid.
All of this shows that there is a lot of work to be done so that this program will provide fair, user-friendly benefits and, more importantly, will allow veterans and their families to make the educational choices that best meet their needs. In our efforts to make improvements, we should carefully consider whether any proposed changes will advance those goals.
On a final note, Mr. Chairman, I want to say a few words about a path forward. At a hearing in April, you mentioned how important it is that we all work together to fix the problems with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I agree and, in fact, committed at that hearing to working with you on legislation to do just that. So, it was disappointing that you then proceeded alone in introducing a bill. As we move forward, I hope we can truly work together to improve education benefits for our nation’s veterans and their families.
I thank the Chair.
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