Good morning, Chairman Murray. Welcome to you and all of our colleagues.
To start with, I want to briefly mention a few bills I sponsored that have been included on today's agenda:
o S. 1707, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, which would end the unfair process that strips veterans and their families of their Second Amendment rights simply because VA finds they need help with their finances.
o S. 2045, which would require judges of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to reside within 50 miles of the Washington, D.C., area -- where the court is located.
o S. 3084, which would reform VA's Veterans Integrated Service Networks -- or VISNs, by addressing the huge growth in VISN headquarters staff and the increasing duplication in the duties they carry out.
o And, S. 3270, which would strengthen VA's pension program by creating a "look-back" period, so VA can consider whether someone applying for need-based pension benefits recently transferred away assets.
These are all common-sense solutions to real issues, and I am pleased that the Committee will be acting on them today.
But, I do have concerns about some of the other items on today's agenda. For one thing, these packages were put together largely without the benefit of the views of the relevant agencies and without estimates of how much these provisions would cost. Also, a number of important questions remain unanswered, including: How would the Committee pay for any increased costs associated with items on today's agenda? Are all of these provisions truly necessary? Who would they help and how? And would there be any unintended consequences?
Madam Chairman, I appreciate that you made a number of changes to accommodate some of my concerns. But, I do plan to offer a number of amendments today to try to further improve these bills. Also, as we move forward, I hope to continue working with you to make sure these bills are addressing real problems in a way that will actually help to improve the lives of military personnel, veterans, their families, and their survivors.
Before I turn it back over to you, Madam Chairman, I also want to reserve my right to file minority views with respect to any of the bills on today's agenda.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.