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Public Statements

The 30-Something Working Group

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


THE 30-SOMETHING WORKING GROUP

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you so much. It is a pleasure to join my 30-something colleagues, Mr. Meek and Mr. Murphy.

Mr. Meek, you started talking about the travesty that was revealed by The Washington Post just before last weekend about what is going on at Walter Reed Medical Center and the campus and its facilities.

I had the privilege of going to visit our men and women that are at Walter Reed who have come back from Iraq injured. Almost every soldier I met with was an amputee and went through a devastating experience, devastating injury. But the ward that they take you through, like this article says, is spit-polished and brand-spanking clean. There is not a shadow of what is described in this third-party validator, which is how we refer to our information that we bring out here to demonstrate the facts.

I want to read just a paragraph from the article. I want to highlight some of the things, and we have been joined by our good friend Mr. Altmire from Pennsylvania.

This article hit me like a ton of bricks: ``Life beyond the hospital bed,' and this is what is going on at Walter Reed that is not what they show us as Members of Congress and that they show the President and Vice President about what is going on at Walter Reed. ``Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands, most of them off post, to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical record keeping databases. The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should,' and it goes on.

That is just unbelievable. A mountain of red tape and bureaucracy is what our troops come back to the United States to and have to deal with. I thought we well established after 9/11 that interoperability and communication between systems was an obstacle that was intolerable.

How could we allow this to happen and just let our veterans, who fought for us so valiantly, and the analogy I will make is while our troops might not come home, and thank good they are not coming home to the same reaction as our Vietnam veterans came home to, how is this not as bad? It is actually worse, in a way, because instead of just having to suffer the wrath of their fellow Americans, which was a travesty and certainly hurtful and harmful, instead they come home and suffer the wrath of their government, the benign wrath of their government. ``Benign' meaning not specifically intended to harm, but it is like death by a thousand cuts.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you. That is a very important and valid point.

I want to read a quote, and that quote is this: ``So let's get something straight right now. To point out that our military has been overextended, taken for granted and neglected, that is no criticism of the military, that is a criticism of the President and Vice President and their record of neglect.'

Who do you think said that? I will tell you who said that, George W. Bush, as a candidate, said that on November 3, 2000, in an interview on CNN.

I think it is pretty clear that he was right almost 7 years ago, and it is just sad that he didn't mean it. It is sad that he didn't actually do anything more than say those words instead of taking to heart what he supposedly believed at the time and making sure that it didn't happen when he became President.

Clearly Walter Reed, the lack of body armor and preparation and training that we are sending, that we have been sending and he was willing to send our troops over to Iraq and Afghanistan without, is clearly still something that he is willing to do. Unfortunately, all the President has been is a candidate who spews words with really not too much meaning behind them. It looks like Mr. Altmire would like to say something.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. On that point, just to focus on the National Guard and how correct you are about how they are being treated versus what they signed up for, there are now 14,000 National Guard troops being deployed earlier than they were originally scheduled to meet the demands of the President's proposed plans to escalate the war.

National Guard and Army units are being called up sooner than previously scheduled, and that is even though some of these units do not have the equipment that they need. They do not have the training, and some of them are having to go over there foregoing the training.

Mr. Meek and I are going to be meeting with our general, who is in charge of our National Guard in Florida very soon. I just saw the request today, and I am looking forward to meeting with him. I met with him in my district in Florida as well last year, and the conversations that I have had with him and with others about the condition of the equipment, not just the condition of the equipment that is going over there, but what happens to the equipment once it comes back because we are not replacing the equipment and sending them new equipment after it has been through 5, 6 years of an Iraq War.

So the equipment that they are working on and that they are utilizing has been through war literally. I mean, we are not making sure that they have the equipment that they need. We are sending them over there two, three and four times now.

When I went to Walter Reed a couple of weeks ago, every single guy I met had been through three tours, three. One of the guys I met, his little boy was there, and literally his dad had been on three tours. His little boy was six, which means that this dad missed half of his child's life already, half. I mean, that is just inexcusable. That is not what our volunteers sign up for. I mean, even if you signed up for the regular standing Army, it is unreasonable to expect that they would have to have that kind of pressure, physical, mental, emotional pressure put on them as well as their families, especially in the middle of the situation in a war that we are involved in under dubious circumstances to begin with.

I do not know if Mr. Meek wants to jump in here now, but he is still sitting so I imagine not. So I will go back to Mr. Murphy.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. I want to follow up on what you are saying and emphasize and demonstrate what we are doing to our best, and I do mean doing to our best and brightest once they have come back. You have been an eloquent champion of our veterans.

I think it is important to recall a private conversation that you and I had on the floor during the run-up to the adoption of the supplemental. It happens that I am a member of the whip team, and you were my assignment that day. I had an opportunity to talk to you about whether we could count on your support for the supplemental and how important it was.

Your answer, which was the appropriate answer, was, well, Debbie, the answer is no, unless you can assure me that there was an increase for veterans health care. Because at that moment, I could not assure you because I did not have the information at my fingertips, I had to get back to you and was proud to be able to report that we did provide a significant increase that we were able to bump up beyond the continuing resolution significantly the health care we are providing to our veterans. But it is to your constituents' credit and the veterans that you represent that you do that.

But let us just go through some facts that we know. The percentage of Army servicemembers receiving medical retirement and permanent disability benefits back in 2001 was 10 percent. The percentage of the same Army servicemembers receiving medical retirement and permanent disability benefits in 2005 down to 3 percent. Army Reservists receiving medical retirement and permanent disability in 2001, 16 percent; same group in 2005, 5 percent.

Let us go to the case backlog at the Veterans Administration on new benefit claims in fiscal year 2006. 400,000-case backup. This is from the Army Times, third party validator. Average length of time veterans wait before receiving monthly benefits, 6 months to 2 years. That was in the Los Angeles Times.

The number of soldiers at Walter Reed navigating the medical and physical evaluation process since 2001 has doubled. The average length of time it takes for Army soldiers to convalesce and go through the military medical and physical evaluations, nine to 15 1/2 months.

The increase in the Army's physical disability caseload since 2001, 80 percent. The number of veterans from the global war on terror expected to enter the military and veterans health care systems in the coming years, 700,000. And I will just read the quote again from Candidate Bush: ``So let's get something straight right now. To point out that our military has been overextended, taken for granted, and neglected, that's no criticism of the military; that is the criticism of a President and a Vice President and their record of neglect.'

Well, it sure is. And these statistics from the time that this President has been in the office are evidence of that.

I would be happy to yield to one of the three gentlemen here.

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. If the gentleman would yield for a question. It is somewhat rhetorical, but if you know the answer, feel free to tell me what it is. Do you know what percentage of the troops that are over in Iraq that we will have as a Nation once Great Britain pulls out?

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Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Thank you. Just to quickly help close us out, the bottom line is that our veterans come home and face devastating treatment from their government. We have outlined that tonight. We send them over there with equipment that in many cases is faulty. We are not adequately preparing them and giving them enough time to be well trained to do their best over there. And they are doing their level best given the assignment that we give them. We are not providing them with the resources, and we are not providing them with the equipment. And, fortunately, we have a Democratic Congress now that is not going to give this President a blank check any longer, not going to let him run roughshod over our duty to be a check and balance on the administration. And that is what the 30-something Working Group is designed to outline. We are going to make sure that we get the message out and that we help our colleagues and anyone who might also hear this conversation between us understand what is really going on.

Mr. Murphy, I would yield to you to give out the Web site and Mr. Meek for closing.

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http://thomas.loc.gov

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