I would like to thank the Members of the Committee, Secretary Shinseki, and all those in the audience, for being here today.
According to former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, "Patriotism is not short outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." Our servicemembers and veterans have proven their dedication with their bravery and their sacrifice. America must continue to show her tranquil and steady devotion to the heroes that have fought on the battlefields and returned home. The way in which we treat our veterans has a direct impact on our ability to recruit men and women in the future, and is a reflection of the values and ideals we hold as a nation.
The VA oversees the largest integrated health care system in the country and operates a vast array of benefits programs meant to support and salute the soldier, sailor, airman and marine. Together, Mr. Secretary, we have taken great strides in the 111th Congress to provide our veterans the quality health care and services that they require and they have earned. I share your goal to build better lives for America's veterans and their families and survivors. We have made a contract with our veterans that we must keep.
First, I would like to thank you for requesting veterans funding levels that appropriately reflects the needs of our veterans more than any other budget requested by a President since I have served on this Committee. The House approved a funding bill that adds $14.5 billion over the current fiscal year and is the third straight budget to exceed the request of the Independent Budget. Although the funding bill has not yet passed, I am proud that we have put forward a budget that is worthy of the service and sacrifice of our veterans.
I am also grateful for your leadership in working with Congress to establish a historic new approach to providing adequate and timely funding for veterans' health care. Just last week, the House passed a bill that responds to late budgets by allowing Congress to fund VA health care one year in advance. This bill is a top priority of veterans service organizations because it will not subject VA to delays and uncertainty--and will finally allow sufficient time to plan how best to deliver health care.
The VA is facing the issue of caring for our returning servicemembers, and the veterans of previous conflicts. The VA must rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of these veterans, especially in the areas of traumatic brain injury care, musculoskeletal conditions, and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, maintaining its excellence in specialized services, and addressing access to care issues. These are challenges that we have begun to work on together and challenges we must meet as a nation.
Mr. Secretary across the nation, veterans who applied for benefits under the GI Bill, have been told their payments are being delayed because of an overwhelming number of problems at both the Department and the schools. Although the VA has issued emergency checks for $3,000 to students, many veterans taking advantage of the program say they have not been told when or if they will be getting their full payments. We hope to hear today about the ongoing implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill--which can only help our veterans become part of the economic recovery if they have access to their benefits in a timely way.
The VA is also facing the issue of providing the benefits earned by our veterans in a timely way. The VA must address the growing backlog of claims filed by those that served in uniform. We must tackle the claims backlog that stymies our wounded veterans from receiving the benefits they earned and deserve.
Mr. Secretary, today, we hope to hear your views on the successes and the challenges that face us and our veterans. We also are hopeful to hear how we can be best helpful in addressing those issues.
Mr. Secretary, the Committee is grateful to you, as well as the devoted employees of the VA, for the dedication to veterans that you all demonstrate day after day. No matter where we may stand on the current conflicts, we are here today because we must be united in seeing that our brave servicemembers are welcomed back with all the compassion this grateful nation can bestow.