Good morning. It is a pleasure for me to be here in beautiful Iron Mountain, Michigan. This is my very first time in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and I am so very grateful to you for allowing me to join you this morning despite my questionable "troll" status.
In all seriousness, I want to thank each of you for taking the time out of your busy lives to spend the morning with us.
I am honored to serve as the Chairwoman of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health and to have your Congressman, and my friend, Dr. Dan Benishek serving on the Committee with me. As I am sure you know, Dan has practiced as a general surgeon in the U.P. since 1983. He has also worked part-time at this VA facility for the past twenty years. Dan is an invaluable voice for veterans and brings a wealth of expertise to our Committee to help guide our efforts to improve VA care for veterans residing here in Iron Mountain and across the country.
Our oversight agenda this year has spanned a wide range of topics - from patient safety to caregiver benefits to the health needs of our newest generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan--and throughout each of those discussions, Dan has provided a unique insight that only one with his "insider" knowledge can bring.
One thing he is always sure to stress about his time at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center is the high caliber of employees who dedicate themselves day in and day out to providing Michigan veterans with quality care and services.
I know he has the utmost confidence in the men and women who work at this facility and it is a comfort to us both to know that veterans are in such good hands up here in Iron Mountain.
To all of the VA employees joining us this afternoon-thank you for all you do each day to care for those who have so honorably served our Nation.
Coming from a rural district myself in Central New York, I am familiar with the struggles veterans living in rural communities, like yourselves, face in accessing the care and benefits you earned.
Congress took a significant step in 2007 when it created a new Office of Rural Health within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address the unique needs of veterans living in rural areas. In 2009 and 2010, Congress provided this office with over $500 million in additional dedicated funds to improve the delivery of healthcare to rural veterans. That is why it is so very disheartening to read a recent audit by the VA Office of the Inspector General (IG) which found that not only has the VA not properly managed the use of these funds, but still continues to lack even a process to assess the needs of veterans in rural areas. I think we can all agree that this is unacceptable.
At our hearing today, we will be taking a look at the healthcare programs provided to local veterans through the Iron Mountain VA Medical Center, including the use of telemedicine and other technologies. And, I want to hear from our witnesses how, if at all, the Office of Rural Health initiatives have improved services for veterans in the U.P. Further, moving forward, I want to know how VA is going to improve the management of our precious resources to meet the goal of increasing access and quality of care for rural veterans across our great country.
With that said, I now recognize your Congressman and my colleague and friend, Dr. Dan Benishek, for an opening statement.