VETERANS' COMPENSATION COST-OF-LIVING ADJUSTMENT ACT OF 2007
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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, we all urge passage of H.R. 1284, the so-called Veterans' Compensation, COLA, Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act. It would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase, effective December 1 of this year, the rates of veterans' compensation to keep pace with the rising cost of living in our Nation. The rate adjustment is equal to that provided on an annual basis to Social Security recipients and is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index.
Regardless, Mr. Speaker, of where any of us are on the current war in Iraq, we all believe that our returning young men and women who have served this Nation so courageously get all the attention, care, respect and love that we can give as a Nation. Nothing bothers any of us more than to see returning troops, whether it be at Walter Reed or any of our VA hospitals, have to face the bureaucracy that seems indifferent, and does not provide the services they need.
The cost of serving these veterans, which includes this annual COLA, is a continuing cost of war. We will have from Iraq and Afghanistan an increase in injuries and disabilities that will yield an increase in claims for compensation. Over 1.5 million servicemembers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan without any end, it looks like, in sight, and the President calls for more troops. Therefore, the Veterans Administration, as well as the military hospitals, can expect a significant increase in the number of new claims for compensation and new demands on the health care system. I think that recent events have shown that neither system is adequately prepared for that onslaught, and, in fact, the systems are stretched to the breaking point.
We as a Congress, we as a Nation, have got to give our veterans all the care that they need, all the resources they need, and we as Congress have to provide accountability for the spending of those resources.
Let me say that certainly we on the Democratic side, and I am sure supported on the Republican side, have made major increases in the resources to our veterans care that is now demanded from our Nation. I am told that the budget resolution will have an additional $6.6 billion over what we appropriated last year for the Veterans Administration.
You know that we appropriated an additional $3.6 billion for fiscal year 2007, the year that we are in now, in the so-called continuing resolution, the biggest increase of any department in that continuing resolution.
The supplemental that we will be considering at the end of this week has $3.5 billion for military and veterans health care: we say if you are going to deal with the cost of war, deal with the costs of the warrior.
So just in 60 days, Mr. Speaker, the new majority in the Congress has provided an additional $13.5 billion for the care of our Nation's veterans, and that is a bigger increase than was totaled in the last 5 years combined.
So I think we are responding to the Walter Reed scandal. We are responding to the tragic suicides that came from indifference from the bureaucracy. We are responding to the needs of traumatic brain injury that have so increased in this war. We are responding to the needs of those who have post-traumatic stress disorder. We are responding to the needs of a Veterans Administration that is backlogged 600,000 disability claims.
So we are going to respond with the dollars. We also need to make sure we have accountability, and we will have more to say on that in the future.
Congress regularly enacts an annual cost-of-living adjustment for veterans compensation to make sure that inflation does not erode the purchasing power of veterans and their families who depend upon this income to meet their daily needs. This bill before us, in fact, will benefit all veterans from the World War I era through the current conflicts.
So I hope that we will have support for this. I would like to add my thanks for the increases that I talked about just a second ago in this budget for 2008 and the continuing resolution for 2007 and the supplemental that we will be considering to our Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who insisted that we care for our Nation's veterans; also, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Mr. Obey of Wisconsin; to his chairman of the subcommittee that looks at veterans affairs, Mr. Edwards from Texas; and the chairman of our Budget Committee, Mr. Spratt, all of whom said we are not going to fail this test that America is faced with today, the test of whether we are going to make sure that our veterans get the care they need
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
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