Good afternoon. It is my privilege to welcome DAV members and National Commander Samuels to today's joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. We are here to receive the legislative priorities of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
One bit of housekeeping before we get started - In the interest of time, after hearing from Chairman Murray, Ranking Member Filner, and Ranking Member Burr, I would like to ask Committee Members to waive their opening statements. There will be an opportunity for remarks during the question and answer period following Commander Samuels' testimony.
Hearing no objections, so ordered.
Speaking for the members of both committees, we are honored to be here this afternoon with so many DAV members, each an American hero in their own right. Each of you has sacrificed selflessly in service to our country and continue to give of yourself today through the numerous positive actions made by the membership of the DAV.
On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your service and for your time in coming all the way to Washington to be with us today. I want to say a special welcome to your National Commander, Mr. Donald L. Samuels. Sir, I thank you for being here and I look forward to hearing your testimony.
I also welcome Ms. Patrice Rapisand who is the National Commander of the DAV Auxiliary. Thank you for being here today and for all of the good work that members of the DAV Auxiliary do for our country. I would also like to take a moment to recognize the DAV members from my home state of Florida, especially those who may be with us from the panhandle's first district.
I am pleased to be joined by my colleagues from across the aisle and across the Capitol including Ranking Member Filner, Ranking Member Burr, and Members of both the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. In particular, I want to extend a warm welcome to Chairman Patty Murray of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Senator Murray, It was a pleasure to work with you last year in constructing and passing the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2012.
I look forward to working further with you this year to help our nation's veterans. Commander Samuels, as more American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines return every day from fighting in the War on Terror, it is a comfort to know that DAV members nationwide stand ready to support them. In a time of continuing conflict and fiscal constraint, the services provided by great organizations like yours have never been more necessary.
Through DAV's National Service Program, veterans are offered professional benefits counseling and claims assistance at no cost. DAV volunteers have provided millions of hours each year in service to veterans at VA medical facilities and millions more hours of driving veterans to and from VA medical appointments. With thousands of servicemembers and veterans in my district, I know firsthand how invaluable those hours are to the veterans who need them and I am personally grateful for the services you provide and the leadership you show in the veteran community.
As I mentioned at our Full Committee budget hearing two weeks ago, the largest issues facing VA, and all American veterans, is the threat of sequestration and possibility of devastating budget cuts for VA. This issue arises due to an ambiguity in the law and the Obama Administration's refusal to answer basic questions on whether VA would be part of this historic cut.
For months I've been trying to get clarity about this issue to no avail, and that is why I want to thank you Commander, and all members of the DAV, for joining other veterans groups in pleading with the President to direct OMB to give us, and the nation, the Administration's interpretation of the conflicts in law so we can protect veterans healthcare and benefits.
I also want to thank you for supporting my legislation, H.R. 3895, that would clarify this issue once and for all to ensure that future generations of veterans are not held hostage due to the type of political gamesmanship that I believe is holding up the President's decision. I ask that all DAV members bring this issue up with your member of Congress when you meet with them this week and help us ensure that the President doesn't let these cuts happen.
Commander Samuels, I wanted to touch on few of my priorities for the coming year and I was pleased to see that your testimony touched on many of these as well:
1. Vigorous oversight of VA's Veteran Benefit Management System or VBMS which is VA's new paperless system for adjudicating disability claims.
While I am pleased that VA is diligently working towards rolling out this system soon, our Committee will continue our oversight to ensure that all claims are adjudicated accurately and quickly the first time.
2. Implementation of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. This is the bicameral and bipartisan veteran jobs legislation that I was proud to work with Chairman Murry to pass last year.
The cornerstone of the law is a provision that provides one year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits to re-train nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans between ages 35-60. This is a landmark re-training package for veterans and one of my top priorities is to ensure it, and all of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act provisions, are implemented correctly to help our nation's unemployed veterans.
3. At the Full Committee budget hearing two weeks ago it was uncovered that recently VA overestimated their funding needs by nearly $5 billion for FY 12 and FY13 combined. We have already started asking the Administration tough questions about why the estimate was so far off, why we didn't know about it till 2 weeks ago, and, most importantly, what priorities VA will be addressing with that money.
4. Finally, the Committee will continue our oversight of the VA healthcare system to ensure that the patient safety and acquisition issues that have been uncovered in the last year are addressed, and ensure that Veterans are receiving the top-quality healthcare they deserve.
Commander Samuels, I once again thank you, and all of DAV's leadership, for being here today and I look forward to your testimony this afternoon.