One of my highest honors as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs is having the chance to meet veterans from around the country, and one of my primary responsibilities is maintaining strict oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure it is upholding its commitment to serve our veterans. Last week, I had the opportunity to do both as I traveled around the country for various VA oversight visits and meetings with veterans.
Manhattan VA Campus Visit
On Tuesday, I visited the Manhattan, New York, campus of the VA NY Harbor Healthcare System, one of the centers of excellence for prosthetics. I discussed many issues with facility leadership, including patient wait times, providing veterans with non-VA medical care and the recent contract award the hospital received for facility upgrades. I also visited with wounded warriors and received updates on that facility's efforts to increase the number of patients doctors see per day, better utilize manpower and financial resources and improve veterans' access to mental health treatment.
Orlando Veterans Roundtable Discussion
The most important voice to be heard in this entire VA crisis is not the VA itself or Congress. The most important input comes from our veterans, themselves. That is why I was honored to sit down at a roundtable discussion in Orlando with many veterans and representatives of veterans organizations who work tirelessly to ensure that all veterans around the country have an avenue to share their stories and express their concerns. Along with my colleague Congressman Daniel Webster (R-FL), I was able to hear firsthand accounts and suggestions from those who know the situation best. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all the veterans who took time to discuss these important issues with me, and I thank them for their continued service to our Nation.
Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation: Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit
Following the veterans roundtable event in Orlando, I was the keynote luncheon speaker at the 2014 Florida Chamber Foundation's Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit. This event gathered leaders from Florida's military and defense industry, Florida veterans, lawmakers and economic development experts to look at how we can expand opportunities for Florida's veterans and continue to grow Florida's all-important military and defense industries.
We are particularly blessed in Northwest Florida to have so many important military installations located in our community. These installations are key to many of our Nation's most vital defense missions. They help bolster a strong defense industry and bring countless benefits to Northwest Florida. They also bring thousands of service members to our community, many of whom return and settle permanently following their military service. I was glad to have an opportunity to bring Northwest Florida's perspective to the event and provide an update on the important work being done in Congress to support our Nation's veterans.
Hot Springs, South Dakota VA Oversight Visit
Congressman Miller visits the Hot Springs VA Medical Center
I then traveled to Hot Springs, South Dakota to conduct an oversight visit and field hearing. First, I was joined by House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Vice-Chairman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) for a tour of the Hot Springs VA Medical Center. This center is part of the VA Black Hills Health Care System, which serves veterans in Western South Dakota, as well as the bordering areas of Nebraska and Wyoming. More than two years ago, VA announced its intention to close the Hot Springs campus, claiming that it longer needed the facility. I find this explanation puzzling given that VA has repeatedly cited a lack of clinical space across the entire VA system as a contributing factor limiting health care access. Despite the fact that the local community has raised concerns about the proposal, a number of critical questions remain unanswered. Unfortunately, this lack of transparency is emblematic of what we see across the entire department on issue after issue, and that is why it is critical that Congress maintain vigorous oversight of VA.
HVAC Field Hearing "Challenges in Rural America: Infrastructure Needs and Access to Care"
Congressman Miller chairs the August 14, 2014 field hearing
Following the oversight visit, I chaired a field hearing focusing on the challenges VA is facing to meet its obligations to America's rural veterans. I was joined at the hearing by Congressman Bilirakis (R-FL), Congresswoman Noem (R-SD), and Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE). At the hearing, we heard from local veterans, stakeholders and VA officials regarding what VA must do to improve access to care for veterans who live in rural areas. VA must ensure it provides high-quality care to veterans in a timely and convenient manner -- regardless of where veterans live. At the hearing, I once again made it clear to VA officials that Congress and the American people will not accept anything less.
Washington Recap : Jobs & Economy
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Great Recession officially came to an end in June 2009. Yet, more than five years later millions of unemployed Americans across the country are asking the same question: "Where are the jobs?" Access to good-paying jobs serves as the foundation to help build stronger communities and better the lives of all Americans. But the sluggish pace of the Obama "recovery" has left us with a severe jobs gap. In fact, our economy still needs to create 5.8 million jobs just to get back to our pre-recession levels, and on its current pace, we won't see this jobs gap closed until 2018. No group feels this jobs gap more acutely than the long-term unemployed, and under President Obama, the number of Americans finding themselves in long-term unemployment has risen by nearly 25 percent to an astonishing 3.2 million Americans. But the reality is that the lack of jobs and a barely growing economy hurts all Americans, regardless of whether they are employed or not. Perhaps the clearest indication of this is the fact that median household income is down more than $2,000 since the Obama "recovery" began.
With this grim economic reality, you would think that the Senate would be working non-stop with the House to advance the pro-growth policies that are needed to support our Nation's small businesses, which have created 65 percent of all new jobs over the past 15 years, and put our country back to work. Yet, of the more than 350 bills languishing on Harry Reid's desk, no fewer than 40 directly address jobs and the economy.
Whether it is cutting back on the absurd amounts of regulatory and bureaucratic red tape that hamstring small businesses, spurring a manufacturing renaissance by unleashing our God-given natural resources, making it easier for businesses to hire veterans, providing tax relief that makes businesses more competitive, or enhancing work opportunities through education and increased flexibility for working families, the 40 plus House-passed jobs bills would provide solutions for many of the problems facing American businesses, workers, and consumers.
America's free enterprise system has set the table for unprecedented economic success and prosperity. House Republicans are committed to advancing commonsense solutions that utilize the unlimited potential of the American people to work hard, innovate, and overcome our current economic challenges. It is well past time for the Senate to join us to promote jobs, opportunity, and freedom by taking up and passing these jobs bills.
Genocide in Iraq
As more evidence comes to light of the egregious human rights violations of ISIS on the Iraqi religious minorities, the situation can only be described as genocide. Thousands of Christians have been, and are being, killed in Iraq and Syria because of their faith, and I believe that President Obama's lack of leadership in the region has simply exacerbated this awful situation, especially in light of his initial assessment of ISIS as a "JV team." The facts have shown the exact opposite; ISIS--now referred to as the Islamic State (IS)--systematically kills Christians, minorities, and even fellow Muslims.
The President has recently approved U.S. airstrikes on specific IS targets which had fired artillery shells into the town of Irbil, near the location of U.S. personnel on the ground. While his decision to provide support comes much too late, I support the decision to not only defend our U.S. personnel, but also the Iraqi minorities persecuted simply for their religion or ethnicity. IS has also surrounded another religious minority--the Yazidis--on Mount Sinjar, where people either face death by the hands of IS terrorists or by lack of food and water.
In light of this atrocious humanitarian crisis caused by horrible acts against innocent people, we must do what we can to protect the freedoms of religious minorities, assist our Kurdish allies in northern Iraq, and stop the Islamic State's cowardly persecution of innocent people.
In the District
The U.S. Treasury Department announced a new rule last week that outlines grant programs established by the RESTORE Act as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The rule accepts the funding allocation proposal submitted by Florida's Gulf Consortium, consisting of 23 counties. Under the proposal, the eight disproportionately impacted counties, from Escambia through Wakulla, will receive an equal share of 20 percent of the funds and the remaining 80 percent will be distributed based on oiled shoreline, per capita sales tax collections, population and distance from the Deepwater Horizon site.
The estimates of the fine ranges from $5 billion to $20 billion, with the majority of the fine money coming from BP once federal court proceedings conclude. About $1 billion already has been collected from a settlement with Transocean, which was charged with operating the oil rig. The Treasury's rule provides the blueprint for those funds to be dispersed as well.
The Treasury's rule is a critical step as it establishes the mechanism for the distribution of fines to the impacted counties. This action clears the way for counties to begin the process of prioritizing and submitting projects for funding to ensure that the communities impacted by the spill are made whole.
Upcoming Mobile Office Days in DeFuniak Springs and Crestview- Tuesday, August 19
In order to better serve the needs of constituents who are not close to the Pensacola or Fort Walton Beach offices, special "mobile office days" modeled after "veterans' assistance days" have been established to better serve our growing population in Northwest Florida. I am pleased to announce upcoming office hours that will be held this Tuesday, August 19. Members of my staff will be available to answer questions about problems with federal agencies or issues affecting the First Congressional District at the following locations and times: 10:00 a.m. -- 11:30 a.m. at the DeFuniak Springs Chamber of Commerce (95 Circle Drive, DeFuniak Springs) and 2:00 p.m. -- 3:30 p.m. at the
Crestview Chamber of Commerce (1447 Commerce Drive, Crestview).
In the News
Robin Williams Passing
I share in the sadness across the Nation with the loss of one of the great talents of our time, Robin Williams. While he was truly a gifted actor and comedian, his most impressive attribute was the selfless philanthropy he conducted off-camera. A huge supporter of our troops, Mr. Williams entertained our Nation's heroes serving in combat zones abroad, bringing laughter to them time and again while they fought for our freedom, in addition to his dedicated volunteer work with the USO. The tragic circumstances surrounding his death shed more light on the mental health issues facing many of our veterans today, and my wife Vicki and I send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to the entire Williams' family as we all collectively share in their loss. I thank Mr. Williams for a lifetime of entertainment, but more importantly as a dedicated example of service to others.
As always, I welcome your comments. To share your thoughts on legislation, votes or issues, please visit http://jeffmiller.house.gov/ to send an e-mail or call any of my offices.