Good afternoon! Welcome to Capitol Hill, Commander Tyson. I and the other members of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees, certainly look forward to hearing the legislative priorities of the Disabled American Veterans for 2011.
I want to welcome those of you in the audience who are here from California. It's great to see you all and we all thank you for your service to this great nation.
Commander, I would like to begin my remarks by extending my compliments to your DAV Washington staff and to tell you how gratifying it has been to work with these professionals on the very important issues that affect our nation's veterans. Your staff continues to play a key role in co-authoring the annual Independent Budget, which has provided lawmakers with detailed recommendations for the past 25 years.
As you know, a few weeks ago the Obama Administration released their VA budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. Both the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees are thoroughly reviewing this request for veterans' funding and will work with the President to ensure we continue to provide adequate, timely and predictable funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA's current budget proposes an additional $1.8 billion dollars in discretionary spending. This funding increase continues to demonstrate that supporting troops and veterans is not just talking the talk but walking the walk for Democrats -- it is our mandate.
Since 2007, 21.4 billion in discretionary dollars was added to the VA budget. The $1.8 billion proposed for 2012 would increase that to $23.2 billion dollars or 70% over the 2006 level. Clearly the last few Congresses understood caring for the warrior comes at a cost. We must continue to provide veterans benefits and health care as a top priority. If we sent them there we should care!
My support of the President's and Secretary Shinseki's efforts to transform the VA into a 21st Century agency is unwavering. I have asked Secretary Shinseki to "request what you need, but need what you request." Our nation's veterans clearly understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but we cannot attempt to balance the budget on the backs of veterans.
I remain steadfast in my opposition to any reckless, ungrounded, and unjustified cuts that might be proposed for veterans programs.
In the next few weeks, the House Committee will submit Views and Estimates on the VA's 2012 budget to the House Budget Committee. While I won't offer detailed specifics I will say that I and my colleagues are committed to:
* Ensuring that the Department of Veterans Affairs is sufficiently funded to provide the care and services our veterans deserve.
* That we will continue to address the mental health care treatment and homelessness issues that affect so many of our veterans.
* That we continue to work towards a comprehensive solution to the disability claims backlog that plagues the VA.
* And that we continue to build upon the successes of vocational rehabilitation programs and the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to help our returning veterans reach their highest potential.
Commander Tyson, I look forward to hearing your thoughts not only on the VA budget for 2012 but all of the legislative priorities of the Disabled American Veterans.