Thank you, Madam Chairman.
It is my distinct honor and privilege to join my colleagues from the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees in welcoming the members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the united states (VFW) and its auxiliaries to our nation's Capitol this morning.
As one of the oldest veterans service organizations, the VFW has a rich history of serving our nation both in battle and on the home front and it is my pleasure to be here today to receive your legislative presentation.
The services provided by great organizations like the VFW have never been more immediate as more of our servicemembers return home from battle each day.
It is a comfort to know that the members of the VFW and its auxiliaries stand ready to support the new generation as well as those veterans from past wars and, indeed, all of our honored veterans and their families.
Before we begin, I would like to personally thank each one of you who has served our nation so honorably in uniform.
It is your service and your sacrifice that have made our country great and I can assure you that your efforts have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
In particular, I would like to acknowledge your commander-in-chief, Mr. Richard DeNoyer [DA-NOYA] and Ms. Gwendolyn Rankin, the National President of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
I thank you each for your leadership and your attendance here this morning.
I would also like to take a moment to greet the VFW members from my home state of Florida, whose members include - and please stand or raise your hand if you would - Mr. John Hamilton, Mr. Dan Duffy, Mr. William 'Joe' Gault [GALL-T], Mr. Bob Shepard, Mr. Mike White, Mr. Lee F. Kichen [KITCHEN], Mr. A. E. 'Gene' Hall, Mr. Benny Bachand [BA-SHAN], Mr. Kenneth Thie [Tee], Mr. William Kirsop [KER-SOP], Ms. Karen Nigara [NIG-AIR-A], and Mr. Paul Nigara [nig-air-a].
I had the privilege of meeting some of you in my office yesterday afternoon and was humbled by all that you do for your neighbors and mine in our Sunshine State.
It was an honor speaking with you and I look forward to continuing our mutual work on behalf of Florida's veteran heroes.
When the VFW appeared before us during last year's joint hearing, I remarked that I wanted our meeting to be the beginning of an open and on-going conversation - creating a better future for American veterans and their families.
A year later, I am proud to say that with the VFW by our side, we have accomplished much of note in the last twelve months.
With your support, we passed the bipartisan VOW to Hire our Heroes Act of 2011, a comprehensive veterans retraining and employment package which will, among other things, provide nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans with the skills they need to find meaningful employment in today's economy.
I would like to thank each of you for that support and for your "boots on the ground" efforts in getting that legislation to the President's desk.
However, our work has just begun and significant challenges remain ahead for us all, not the least of which is the growing threat of sequestration.
As you may know, due to an unintended conflict in law, VA may face a two percent cut in their medical care budget.
Needless to say, such a cut would severely impact VA's ability to provide the high quality healthcare America's veterans have earned and deserve.
Since August, when the Budget Control Act of 2011 was passed, I have sought assurances from both Secretary Shinseki and President Obama that VA would be exempt from sequestration, as the law intended.
Unfortunately, I have failed to receive any assurances from the Administration that our veterans would be exempt from the negative effects of sequestration.
As such, I introduced H.R. 3895, the Protect VA Healthcare Act of 2012 (H.R. 3895).
The bill, all of a page and a half in length, would rectify this issue once and for all and ensure that future generations of veterans are not held hostage to the type of political gamesmanship that I believe is holding up the President's decision.
I am proud to once again have the support of the VFW in this effort.
Further, as you meet with your representatives this week, I ask that each of you in our audience today ask them to join me in cosponsoring this bill, H.R. 3895, to protect the VA healthcare system on behalf of the men and women serving our nation who have already sacrificed enough.
Commander DeNoyer, I am very much looking forward to your testimony this morning and I thank you once again.
Thank you and I yield back.