As the nation observes Veterans Day Nov. 11, I want to add my voice to those offering their thanks to the brave men and women who have worn or continue to wear the uniform of our great country.
Too often, Veterans Day is seen only as a day of remembrance, and as important as that is, as a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I think it is also a call to action to keep our commitments to those who have served.
This Congress and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have worked tirelessly for our veterans. I am proud to report that as of this Veterans Day, we have held 25 hearings and passed 24 bills out of the House on behalf of our veterans.
As part of the House Veterans’ Affairs committee business meeting in mid-October, we marked up six bills under our jurisdiction. These bills were all voice voted out of committee and reported favorably with bipartisan support. The legislation included updates to the G.I. Bill benefits, changes to improve legal services for homeless veterans, and legislation to improve transparency by posting VA reports online.
At the end of the month, we marked up and voice voted another ten bills including the Improving Confidence in Veterans Care Act, for which I was the lead Democrat. This bill would ensure that VA employees are properly trained to check the credentials of doctors who treat our veterans. When veterans seek treatment, they should have confidence that they will be treated by doctors who are qualified. Anything less is unacceptable.
Earlier this year, I provided the following statement for the record to the Committee to emphasize two programs that I know are important locally to veterans and their families in the seventh district of Minnesota. In the coming months, I will continue to work on getting things done on behalf of those who have worn the uniform. Our veterans deserve no less.
Chairman Takano, Ranking Member Roe, Members of the Committee,
Thank you for this opportunity to provide remarks. I would like to highlight two programs of great importance to the veterans and their families in my district – the VA State Home Construction Grant Program and the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program.
VA State Home Construction Grant Program
Taking care of our most vulnerable veterans is my highest priority as a member of this committee. The State of Minnesota submitted federal fund match requests earlier this year for new veterans homes in Bemidji and Montevideo. These 72-bed homes would provide high quality care to underserved rural veterans in my district, and I strongly support the proposals for these homes.
The local communities in Bemidji and Montevideo and the state of Minnesota spent years raising and securing enough funds to qualify for Priority One funding under the VA State Home Construction Grant Program. This year, both homes will fall under that Priority One ranking. However, due to the fact that this program has been underfunded for years, it is uncertain if they will receive the federal funding matches they need to begin construction.
This issue is also prevalent in other states across the country, and I am not alone when it comes to supporting strong funding for the VA State Home Construction Grant program. Therefore, I believe it should be a top priority for Appropriators and this Congress to make sure this program receives the funding needed so that veterans homes can be built across the country. This is the best way to ensure our heroic veterans are receiving high quality care they deserve later in life.
Veterans Cemetery Grants Program
Another program I would like to raise awareness of and see supported with additional funding is the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program. Veterans and their families in Redwood County, Minnesota have been waiting for about 10 years now to establish a state veterans cemetery that will provide burial benefits to local veterans. The area has been determined to have approximately 22,000 unserved veterans in a 75 mile radius.
New cemeteries such as this fall into Priority Group #2 on the National Cemetery Administration’s priority list. According to officials at the National Cemetery Administration, the current federal funding amount only allows for one or two new cemeteries to receive funding each year. Local stakeholders have worked to secure land, and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has submitted an application on behalf of Redwood County. All involved hope this year will be the year.
It is important that we remember that our obligation to our veterans never ends. These state veterans cemeteries provide important services to local communities and ensure that families and loved ones are able to visit and honor our veterans. I believe that oversight hearings for these two important programs would show both the significant funding shortfall and the broad base of support for these programs.
Thank you again for this opportunity to provide remarks to the Committee. I urge Members of Congress to consider the importance of these programs and to support and honor our veterans by ensuring they are adequately funded.
– Collin Peterson serves Minnesota's Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives