WASHINGTON, D.C. – Good morning, Chairman Akaka, Chairman Filner, and Ranking Member Buyer. Thank you all for convening this joint hearing to listen to the legislative priorities of the valued organizations represented here today.
I’d like to welcome all of our witnesses and to extend a special welcome to Charlie Smith, from my home state of North Carolina. Thank you for the work you all do on behalf of veterans in North Carolina and across the country.
These hearings give us the opportunity to hear your first-hand accounts of what challenges veterans are facing today, what benefits and services are working well for them, and, more importantly, where improvements are needed. This insight, together with feedback from our constituents at home, helps guide our efforts to improve the lives of veterans and their families across the country.
In recent years, we have made many improvements to the services for our veterans but, as you state in your testimony, we still have many challenges that need the attention of our legislative and oversight efforts during this Congress.
Among the concerns raised in your testimony is the need to provide VA with a timely, predictable, and sufficient budget. I could not agree more. It’s simply unacceptable that, over the years, funding for VA has fallen victim to politics-as-usual in Washington D.C.
That’s why I’m pleased to have joined with Chairman Akaka in co-sponsoring the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. This bill will allow VA to plan its health care budget in two-year cycles through advanced-appropriations and will lend new transparency to the budget process. In short, it will bring about the much-needed changes that our veterans deserve.
Your testimony also highlights the need to improve VA’s claims processing and appeal system. As we all know, this system takes far too long and frustrates many veterans -- including veterans from North Carolina. So, I hope we can all work together to find common-sense solutions that will make this system work better for veterans and their families, both now and in the future.
Also, many of you stressed the need to ensure that wounded service members experience a seamless transition from active duty to civilian life. I share that goal and welcome your input on how we can make that a reality for the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed on behalf of us all.
As we collectively work on these and other important issues affecting our nation’s veterans, we should keep in mind that just funding programs is not enough. We must make sure that these benefits and services are meeting the needs of our nation’s veterans and their families and are actually improving their lives. I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the Hill to do just that.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman.
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