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Military Construction And Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, as the chairman of the Authorizing Committee, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, I want to thank Chairman Edwards, Chairman Obey, and his ranking members, for giving us this bill and a whole series of bills that preceded this since our party has taken over the majority of this body.

Not only have we for the first time with fiscal years 2008 and 2009 exceeded the budget requests in the so-called independent budget, which is put together by veterans' groups for veterans, and for the first time we exceeded them 2 years in a row. Not only that, but with the fiscal year 2007, which we had to pick up, and several supplemental bills which we had to pass, we have added, in my calculation, over $17 million worth of new money for the health care of our veterans, which is an unprecedented 40 percent increase since Chairman Edwards and Chairman Obey have been chairmen of those committees. That is incredible.

We have put resources in place to do the job for our veterans, but the Veterans Administration doesn't always do what we intend, or do it with the efficiency that we would like. Many of you have heard the horror stories of young people going to medical centers, asking for PTSD help, post-traumatic stress disorder, being told that they can't get an appointment for 5 or 6 weeks, going home and committing suicide.

We have had the Secretary of the VA tell me, when I said, Aren't a thousand suicide attempts per month by our veterans a concern? He said, No. It's consistent with the literature. We have had a Secretary, Under Secretary of Defense say that 300,000 PTSD victims of our forces in Iraq and 320,000 victims of brain injury were not a problem because those were just symptoms of those injuries. They didn't really exhibit full-blown PTSD or full-blown traumatic brain injury and therefore they weren't concerned about it. So their concern, Mr. Chairman, has not always equaled our commitment here.

My two amendments would try to have dealt with that in a way that I hope and I know the chairman will work with me in the future.

Do you know that tens of thousands of our young people leave Iraq and Afghanistan, whether they are in the active duty or the Reserves or the National Guard, without any evaluation by medical personnel for either PTSD or brain injury?

We have to do something about that, Mr. Chairman. I have proposed, and we will work with you as we authorize what I am calling a Hero's Homecoming camp, to say that every soldier with his or her company, with his or her family, will be evaluated by medical personnel for brain injury and PTSD, and before they are discharged from the service. I had asked for $10 million to cooperate with the DOD to do that.

In addition, one of the chief weaknesses of the Veterans Administration is they don't like outside help. They don't ask for community support. All over this country, people want to help our troops. So I have asked at some point for $250 million for community grants to help our soldiers in their own communities who have mental health and other injuries for their treatment and rehabilitation.

This is something I think we have to do, Mr. Chairman. I know you agree with me in principle. I know this is not the time and place to debate that or put that in the bill. Your commitment to our soldiers, sailors airmen, and marines is well known. Just putting that out there, that we have to do this community support, mandatory evaluations, that I know that we can work together.

I will withdraw the amendment.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the chairman for allowing me to take a few minutes on this amendment. As we are very much concerned with our Iraqi and Afghanistan young men and women who are returning with grave injuries, we cannot forget our older veterans and the justices that we have to make up for.

We can go back to World War II where we have atomic veterans who have not yet received compensation for being in testing areas without being told. We have merchant mariners who never got benefits of our GI Bill, who are in their eighties and we need to say thank you to.

We have a group of veterans who were drafted into the Army in 1941, all the Filipinos who were in the Filipino army and various units and various irregular areas defending that territory. That was a territory of ours. And we drafted all the soldiers into our Army with the promise that they would have benefits later.

Those Filipino soldiers, over a quarter million of them, held up the Japanese advance for weeks and weeks and weeks beyond their scheduled advance. It allowed us back home to prepare better and for MacArthur to return. And though the Japanese overran the Philippines in the terrible battles of Corregidor and the famous death march of Bataan, the surviving soldiers were able to harass the Japanese through guerilla work, and they were not strong enough to resist MacArthur when he returned. In fact, it was the Filipinos, bravely alongside their American counterparts, who helped to win the war in the Pacific.

After the war was over, after we had won in both the Atlantic and Pacific, the Philippines were granted their independence, and the Congress of 1946 said, You got your independence. You take care of your veterans. Yes, you saved America, but that is your problem, not ours anymore.

Although President Truman signed the legislation which embodied that in law, he said, We must repair this important travesty. We promised those veterans full benefits. We have taken them away. We have to go and give them back. That was 62 years ago, Mr. Chairman, and that travesty still burns in the hearts of the Filipinos who are alive, and their family members.

The amendment I have in front of the body says that, basically, We are sorry, but thank you.

It provides a pension for those brave Filipino veterans. This is a moral necessity for America to close the chapter on World War II. This is a moral necessity for this Congress to make up for a mistake that was made 62 years ago.

I know many Members of this body agree with remedying this moral disaster, and yet we have had problems of how we pay for that and how we somehow use the budget to make sure that we are helping these deserving veterans, while not taking away from our brave young men and women from either World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the Persian Gulf war 1 or the present conflicts.

So, Mr. Chairman, I am trying to figure out a way to do that. I know the vast majority of this body agrees with me, and I look forward to working with you to find a way to do that.

I know there are other speakers on this amendment. I would hope that we have a colloquy with the chairman on his time in a few minutes.

I yield back the balance of my time.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. Does the gentleman from Texas continue to reserve his point of order?

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