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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. FARR. Madam Chair, on Memorial Day, we remembered the patriotic sacrifice of those that have lost their lives in service to our country and today, we renew our commitment to keep our promise to our nation's more than 2 million troops and reservists, their families, 22.2 million veterans, and 35.5 million family members of living veterans or survivors of deceased veterans.

This committee has a strong history of working in a bipartisan way to produce a bill that supports our active duty servicemembers, our veterans and their families, and this bill is no exception.

I commend the Chairman and Ranking Member for their hard work in ensuring that this bill is another significant step in fulfilling the promise our country made to leave no veteran behind.

For example, even though Congress has fully funded the VA budget request for additional staffing and technology, the disability claims backlog continues to grow.
While the VA has taken steps to rectify this deplorable backlog, we owe it to our veterans to exercise our Congressional oversight responsibilities to ensure that the VA actually fixes the backlog.

I am pleased the bill before us today includes language I requested, with some of my Northern CA colleagues, that would add additional oversight requirements for the Veterans Benefits Administration and require regular updates from the VA on of the status of the backlog.

Through regular updates from the VA, we ensure accountability and end the backlog.
Additionally, I am pleased to see that this bill again recognizes the burial needs of our veterans in rural areas. The National Cemetery Administration has repeatedly stated that 10% of all veterans will not have access to a burial option in a national, state or tribal cemetery within 75 miles of their home.

While the VA strategy outlined in the FY13 budget request to extend burial services to some rural veterans is a good first step, it fails to address a long-term strategy. The FY13 bill and report instructed the VA to correct this oversight and the FY14 report language reaffirms the need for the VA to develop a long-term strategy to provide burial services for all our nation's veterans, including those who live in rural areas. Veterans in my congressional district do not have access to a VA burial option, so I look forward to the Secretary's report on the VA's long-term strategy to address their burial needs.

I would note that while this bill is $1.4 billion above last year's enact level, it is also $1.4 billion less than the President's request. While I am glad to see this bill has been protected from senseless cuts imposed by sequestration, I strongly believe this Congress needs to get back to the balanced approach we agreed to in the bipartisan Budget Control Act.

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