MILITARY CONSTRUCTION, MILITARY QUALITY OF LIFE AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007
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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I rise today to support the Military Quality of Life Appropriations Bill (H.R. 5385). This is an improvement, albeit a small one, over the President's budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs. In total, the Committee provided an additional $635 illion above the President's budget. Everyone on my side ofthe aisle--and all of the veteran service organizations--viewed that figure as inadequate. Several of my colleagues--including Mr. EDWARDS, Mr. FARR, and Mr. OBEY--did their best to get the committee to fund adequately hospital construction, personnel hiring, and health care delivery initiatives that are vital to meeting our veterans needs. Instead, the committee voted to give still more tax cuts to millionaires.
Whom do we value more--those who make millions, or those whose valor made it possible for the millionaires to flourish in peace and freedom in the first place?
On January 17, 2003, the Bush Administration stopped enrolling new Priority 8 veterans for VA medical care, and the President's budget continues this restrictive policy. This Republican policy has denied health care to 273,000 and prevented 1 million veterans, who make as little as $26,902, from enrolling in VA health care. Those who are eligible are often forced to wait in line for care. As VA officials admitted to Congress in February, the VA has treated more than 144,000 returning veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and nearly 30,000 veterans are waiting in line for their first appointment--double the number last year.
Nearly a third of returning veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan have been diagnosed with mental disorders, with nearly half of those PTSD, according to the VA. The number of troops back this year from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder could total 15,000 or more--five times higher than the VA predicted. And as the Kansas City Star noted on April 30, the ``miscalculation on PTSD echoes last year's underestimation by the Bush administration of how many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans would need medical treatment.''
The President and his Congressional allies don't seem to have any problem paying for the weapons of war, but they do seem to have a problem paying for the consequences of war. But the country that sends its people into combat--its sons and daughters, its husbands and wives, its sisters and brothers--has a sacred obligation to take care of those people when they come home--and to care for their survivors when they do not. It is an obligation that goes back to Abraham Lincoln in 1865. It is an obligation we have never fully met--under administrations and Congresses of both parties.
This budget, while better than what the President submitted, does not truly meet that obligtion. Any member of this body who has committed this country to a war costing $400 billion can surely find it in their hearts to their budget to produce the $2 billion that the veteran's organizations say is missing in this bill. Yet this bill fails to provide $6 billion from what current veterans need over the next 5 years for their health care. I hope that next year we will pass a budget that veterans feel meets their needs, rather than one they view as ``the best they could get.''
Finally, there is a VA clinic in my district leasing space at Fort Monmouth which is scheduled to close under the 2005 BRAC recommendations. Secretary Nicholson has pledged to me in writing that this clinic will stay open through 2010 at its present location and working to maintain its location in Monmouth County beyond that. While the Pentagon must take into account the care and well-being of the veterans served by the base when following BRAC procedures, the VA must have sufficient resources meet the veteran's needs. In this case, it means having the resources to acquire a much needed facility after the Army leaves town. At present those resources are not there. I look forward to working with my colleague to ensure that the veterans of my district will continue to receive the same high quality care they currently have.
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