Obama Budget 2011: Investing in America's Veterans
Last month, I conducted a hearing to address the Obama Administration's budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under a new law, the Administration is able to request two budgets for the VA: one to provide fiscal 2011 total funding and another to provide fiscal 2012 funding for certain VA medical accounts.
For fiscal year 2011, the Administration has proposed a VA budget of $125 billion, an $11 billion increase from the 2010 enacted budget. The Administration is requesting $51.5 billion in resources for VA medical care, an increase of $4.1 billion over fiscal year 2010 levels. For fiscal year 2012, the Administration has requested a 5 percent increase in funding above the amounts requested for fiscal year 2011.
After years of working to provide adequate VA budgets, I am pleased that the recommendations of the Independent Budget have been addressed. I am impressed by this robust budget request and its emphasis on funding many of the priorities of this Committee, including addressing the plague of homelessness, rural health care access, and the mental health care needs of our veterans. This budget addresses the problems faced by our newer veterans while not forgetting the sacrifices and service of veterans from previous conflicts. I am very pleased with the direction taken by President Obama and VA Secretary Shinseki.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki presented an overview of the 2011 budget for VA and provided detail on key investments in "high priority performance goals," which include reducing the claims backlog, eliminating veteran homelessness, automating the G.I. Bill benefits system, establishing a virtual lifetime electronic record, improving mental health care, and deploying a Veterans Relationship Management System. Secretary Shinseki highlighted specific budget proposals necessary to transform VA into a 21st century organization and provided updates on current projects, including the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and re-engineering the Veterans Benefits Administration into a paperless system.
Rest assured that this Committee will be working closely with our counterparts in Congress and with the Administration as the process moves forward to ensure that veterans have the medical care resources they need. Under the Secretary Shinseki's leadership, we are able to build on the historic past increases in funding and better meet the needs of America's veterans.
Supporting the Establishment of Centers of Excellence for Green Infrastructure
I recently co-sponsored the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act (H.R. 4202), legislation that would establish centers of excellence for green infrastructure.
We need to encourage water conservation in Southern California. These centers of excellence will be models for communities and businesses in sustainable growth and water usage.
Many water resources in the United States are declining, particularly in urban areas. This decline of water resources is the result of an increase in population, water consumption, and impermeable surfaces; as well as the negative effects of urbanization, commercial and industrial activities, and climate change. An October 2008 study by the National Research Council found that some of the benefits of green infrastructure include increased water supplies, the creation of green jobs, cost savings, and a reduction of stormwater runoff, surface water discharge, stormwater pollution, and stormwater flows.
Honoring the Life of Miep Gies, Who Preserved the Diary of Anne Frank
Last month, I co-sponsorsed H.R. 1074, a resolution that honors the life and courageous spirit of Miep Gies, who helped sustain Anne Frank's family while they were in hiding and preserved her diary for future generations.
Were it not for Miep Gies, the world would never have met Anne Frank. The humanitarian actions of Gies more than fifty years ago in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam have had a special and enduring impact.
Hermine "Miep" Gies was born to a German Catholic family in Vienna, Austria, on February 15, 1909, and moved to the Netherlands when she was 11. In 1933 she took a job as an office assistant to Otto Frank, owner of an Amsterdam pectin manufacturing company and father of Anne Frank. After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Mr. Frank, his wife Edith, and his daughters Margot and Anne went into hiding. For two years Miep, her husband Jan Gies, and three other employees of Otto Frank, risked their lives to supply the Franks with food and other provisions. After the Gestapo captured the Franks, Miep found the pages of Anne's diary and hid them for safekeeping. When Otto Frank, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and returned to Amsterdam, learned that his daughters died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, Miep gave Anne's diary to Mr. Frank.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is one of the world's most widely read books and serves as an inspiration to countless people. For her courage during the occupation of the Netherlands and her dedication in keeping the memories of those times alive, Miep Gies received many honors including knighthood from Germany and the Netherlands.
Co-Sponsoring the International Violence Against Women Act
I am proud to announce that I am an original co-sponsor of H.R. 4594, the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).
The human rights violations against women must be stopped. The United States has an opportunity to raise this issue in its diplomatic work and have an impact on the suffering of millions of women around the world.
IVAWA is the first large U.S. governmental initiative aimed at reducing violence against women and girls internationally. The bill creates structural mechanisms in the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development and requires the creation of a comprehensive strategy to combat violence against women and girls abroad. Humanitarian funding would be increased and updated mechanisms for responding to emergency outbreaks of violence against women and girls would be implemented. Combating violence against women is a preventative step to ensuring stability around the world.
President Signs Veterans'
Emergency Care Fairness Act
Last month, I praised President Barack Obama's signing of H.R. 1377, the Veterans' Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2009. The new law expands veteran eligibility to require the VA to pay for emergency treatment for a non-service connected condition if a third-party is not responsible for paying for the full cost of care. The bill clarifies that the VA only pay the difference between the amounts paid by the third-party and the VA allowable amount, and is not responsible for copayments the veteran owes to the third party.
Under current law, veterans are not reimbursed for medical costs when they receive emergency care from non-VA medical facilities if they have insurance that pays either full or a portion of the emergency care. This creates an inequity that penalizes veterans with third-party insurance and burdens veterans with paying the remaining amount not covered by insurance. I am pleased that President Obama signed this common sense bill into law in order to clarify the reimbursement responsibilities of the VA, so veterans can focus on their recovery, instead of being overburdened with financial concerns.
In addition to reimbursing veterans for emergency care in the future, the bill allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide retroactive reimbursements for care received prior to the passage of this bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this legislation will cover approximately 700 future claims per year and as many as 2,000 veterans retroactively.
I introduced H.R. 1377 on March 6, 2009, which became Public Law 111-137 on February 1, 2010.
Joining the Building Industry Coalition for Economic Recovery to Protest Banks
The Building Industry Coalition for Economic Recovery and I joined together in Downtown San Diego in protest of several large banks who have failed to alter their lending practices that would have helped many small businesses and homeowners. I encourage the public to boycott banks like Bank of America who are resisting federal legislative reform that would lower the risk of another financial meltdown.