INTRODUCTORY STATEMENT FOR H.R. 3936 -- HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (Extensions of Remarks - March 11, 2004)
HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, MARCH 11, 2004
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, today, along with Mr. EVANS, and Mr. SKELTON, I am introducing H.R. 3936, a bill to authorize the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, now located in commercial office space in the District of Columbia, to seek a new location in the greater national capital region. This measure would also express the sense of Congress that a dedicated Veterans Courthouse and Justice Center should be provided for the court and the veterans it serves. It would be located, if possible, on one of three small parking lots next to I-395 on the Pentagon Reservation.
The court, created by statute in 1988, is an independent Article I judicial tribunal that for the first time gave our Nation's veterans the right to judicial review of the Department of Veterans (VA) benefits decisions on their disability, pension, education and other claims. It should, like all other article I courts, have a permanent courthouse.
In addition to the court, occupants of the new Courthouse would be members of those constituencies that regularly practice before the court, for example, the Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, and the appellate attorneys of veterans service organizations. The court and the offices of its constituents pay over $3.7 million per year for their rent. The General Services Administration anticipates that the court's rental costs will increase substantially in the not-too-distant future, so it would be desirable to relocate the court on a government-owned site, if possible.
H.R. 3936 would also require the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Administrator of General Services to submit a joint report to the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs on the feasibility of locating a new Veterans Courthouse and Justice Center at an appropriate site owned by the United States that is part of or near the Pentagon Reservation.
Mr. Speaker, given the past, present, and future sacrifices of the many men and women of our Armed Forces, I cannot imagine a better use for one of the present parking lots near the Pentagon, than a stand-alone, dedicated Veterans Courthouse and Justice Center to embody the gratitude and respect this Nation has for the service of every veteran.
I invite my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation as a first step toward a Veterans Courthouse and Justice Center for the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.