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Regarding VVA’s Legislative Agenda & Priority Initiatives Before the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs Of the United States Senate And theUnited States House of Representatives

March 6, 2008

Today, I am pleased to deliver to you VVA’s perspective on legislative and funding priorities and policy initiatives that we hope you will consider and weigh and act on.

A great deal has transpired since this time last year when I presented VVA’s views to you.  We still see only a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have left our nation with thousands of additional casualties who need our care and understanding and support.  In response to the revelations one year ago of shoddy conditions and bureaucratic snafus at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the President created commissions and a task force to look into the situation and offer remedies.  While the VA and DoD have acted on several of the recommendations of these august entities, and of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, we have seen little in the way of positive change at Walter Reed and, frankly, at most other DoD and VA healing facilities.

Members of Congress have voiced particular interest in improving the lives of veterans.  We appreciate the additional $6.7 billion increase appropriated to the VA for the current fiscal year.  (Now, we all of us have to demand accountability from the VA:  How are they spending this windfall?)  We applaud the proactive attempts by public and private sector alike to curb the alarming increase in suicide among active-duty troops and recently returned GIs.  We thank you for a slew of other initiatives designed to help reintegrate into society former troops traumatized by their tours of duty, particularly in the hotbed of internecine conflict that is Iraq.

At the same time, while the system is gearing up to deal with the fiscal and physical realities faced by our newest generation of veterans, we still must devote an inordinate amount of time advocating for a new mechanism to fund the VA’s medical operations.  We base our arguments on the premise that funding veterans’ health care is part and parcel of the continuing cost of the national defense.  We maintain that the current method of funding is, fundamentally, broken, that we cannot expect to see significant increases each year in funding a healthcare system that is simply overburdened, with not enough nurses and clinicians, particularly in the mental health field, to help veterans readjust in a world forever changed by what they saw and did and experienced while in the service of our nation.

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