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red star bulletRelated Links: Testimony Main Page

Before the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs Regarding VVA’s Legislative Agenda and Policy Initiatives

March 12, 2009

Good morning Chairman Akaka, Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Burr and Ranking Member Buyer, and other distinguished members of the committees of Congress that have the well-nigh sacred responsibility of being on the front lines to ensure that veterans receive the health care and other benefits they need, they have earned, and they deserve for having donned the uniform in the service of our nation.

To preface my remarks on behalf of the members of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and our families, let me offer a quote that I know many of you have heard before: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

This sentiment was expressed in 1789 by President George Washington, the father of our country. Today, 43 presidents later, and with American servicemen and –women engaged in bloody conflicts halfway across the globe, the needs of three generations of veterans has perhaps never been greater. And how we as a nation treat them, and how we as a people appreciate them, will go a long way towards healing them, and showing future generations the honor of service to country and countrymen.

Reportage in newspapers and magazines, on cable outlets and television, in blogs and online publications, bring home the true costs of war: the catastrophic wounds suffered by our troops and the lifelong care they will need; the suicides and array of mental and emotional hurts – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury – that plague so many of them; the economic stress far too many of them are subjected to when they choose to leave military service, stress that often leads to foreclosures of their homes for some, and life on the streets for others.

The good news is that there is promising new leadership in the Department of Veterans Affairs. But General Shinseki and his aides will have to negotiate a minefield of problems to make the delivery of health care more effective as well as more efficient, to ensure that there are enough clinicians and support staff, who are properly trained and supervised, to meet the growing need for rehabilitation and for mental health services, as well as meaningful assistance in securing gainful work and training or education that will lead to work producing a living wage, and to find ways to cut the outrageous delays in adjudicating and appealing claims for disability compensation.

At the same time, the VA must accommodate the incremental addition of eligible so-called Priority 8 veterans onto its rolls. These veterans, who are not service-connected disabled (yet) but who are willing to pay co-payments for their health care, have earned the right to this care. It’s past time that their “temporary” barring from enrollment in the VA system is ended, and for this we are grateful to the 110th Congress for having appropriated the funds to begin the incremental addition of Priority 8s onto the VA’s rolls. We certainly hope that you in the 111th Congress will continue on the path that will accommodate all those veterans who are eligible and who choose to use the VA for their health care.

The VA healthcare system is going to be stretched, and those responsible for the delivery of services are going to have to respond with a firmness of purpose, a clarity of vision, and the willingness to think anew to meet the needs of veterans who are hurting. And you in Congress are going to have to provide them with the financial tools – and corresponding oversight – to help them accomplish their mission.

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