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Hearing of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee - Pending Healthcare Legislation


Location: Washington, DC

Good morning, Chairman Sanders. Welcome to our witnesses and thank you for being here. Also, I want to thank Tom Bowman for being here today and I look forward to hearing his testimony regarding S. 543, the VISN Reorganization Act of 2013.

As we consider all the bills on today's agenda -- I think it is important to consider a few things especially before creating or expanding programs -- I believe we should start by considering how well existing programs are currently working and identify any gaps in services or inefficiencies. By examining current programs, this will help us focus on changes that are truly needed and avoid creating any more duplication or overlapping which is often very frustrating for veterans and their families. Lastly, it is also important to consider the fiscal challenges facing our nation. We need to know the costs of these bills and, for any that will move forward, we must find responsible ways to pay for them.

With all that in mind, I look forward to a productive discussion about the bills on today's agenda. To start with, I'd like to mention several of those bills that I sponsored. One is S. 543, the VISN Reorganization Act of 2013. This legislation would reform VA's Veterans Integrated Service Networks -- or VISNs.

In 1995, the veterans' health care system was divided into 22 geographic areas -- now 21 VISNs. Each region had its own headquarters with a limited management structure to support the medical facilities in that region. Since then, there has been a huge growth in staff at the VISN headquarters and increasing duplication in the duties they carry out.

So, this bill would consolidate the boundaries of nine VISNs, move some oversight functions away from VISN management, and limit the number of employees at each VISN headquarters. All of this should make these networks more efficient and should allow resources to be reallocated to direct patient care.

Another bill is S.529 which would change the start date for eligibility of hospital care and medical services in connection with exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. This legislation would change the date from January 1, 1957 to August 1, 1953 which is based on letter sent to Under Secretary Hickey from Dr. Christopher Portier the Director of the National Center for Environmental Health, and Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.

In this letter, Dr. Porter states (quote) "according to our water modeling, we estimate that the first month any VOC exceeded the current EPA MCL in finished water was August 1953, and at least one VOC exceeded its current MCL in Hadnot Point drinking water from August 1953 through January 1985 (end quote)." Therefore, I believe there credible evidence that warrants the change in commencement date. I ask unanimous consent this letter be included as part of the record.

Lastly, I would like to touch on one other, S. 825, is a bill Chairman Sanders and I introduced which would improve VA homeless prevention programs and VA transitional housing programs. This legislation will reduce barriers many homeless veterans face including providing legal services, provide services to dependent children of those veterans seeking services through the transitional housing program and ensure the safety of women by requiring facilities to meet the gender-specific needs of homeless women veterans.

Mr. Chairman, all of these bills would provide common-sense solutions to real issues affecting our nation's veterans, their families, and their survivors. I look forward to working with you and our colleagues to see that these and other worthwhile bills on today's agenda soon become law.

I thank the Chair.

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