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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 15, 2007)

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Mr. DONNELLY. Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you on this bill and what a tremendous job your committee has done in producing this. I want to make sure that the Veterans Administration uses the added resources that you have provided to help reduce the disability claims that we have seen getting backlogged. We need to reduce that backlog in the most efficient manner possible.

Mr. Chairman, I strongly support this underlying bill. For the first time in years, Congress is going to provide the kind of resources the VA should have in order to provide the level of health care and customer service that America's veterans have earned through their service.

I commend you and the committee for drafting a bill that we can all be proud of and that works for our veterans.

Today, America's disabled veterans must wait an average of almost 6 months for the VA to make a decision on their initial claim. Right now, as we speak, almost half a million veterans have pending claims that have already exceeded that 6-month time period, a period of time, I believe, that is far, far too long.

With hundreds of thousands of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, we can only expect the demand for services to rise. This is an unacceptable situation, as you well know, Mr. Chairman, and it's a result from two occurrences, insufficient resources at the VA to process claims and a system that fundamentally needs to be improved. We commend you because this bill starts to address the funding issues that we face.

H.R. 2642 provides invaluable new resources to address the VA's deficiencies, including funding for over 1,000 additional claim workers. I want to make sure the VA is doing everything possible in considering every opportunity to use the funds you are using in a wise fashion.

The Government Accountability Office has made eight commonsense recommendations to how it can improve the disability claims process at the VA. This report, most recently reiterated on May 25, is a report that deals with our wounded warriors and how to take care of them better. It has eight strategic ways to fix the disability claims situation.

However, according to the GAO, the VA is not moving on these eight recommendations. I think the Congress should know why the VA is not moving forward with these, and if they do move forward, they should let us know when and how they are going to implement these recommendations. We should require the VA to report back to Congress on what it is doing to implement the GAO recommendations and how they can improve this process.

Mr. Chairman, we are grateful. The veterans of Indiana's Second District are grateful for the increase in funds, and we ask your help in making sure that the VA uses those funds in a wise way and reduces the disability claims backlog.

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