Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at the Related Agencies- The Year Ahead Hearing

2021-05-05 14:33

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on Related Agencies- The Year Ahead.

Today we welcome leaders of the four agencies under Title III of our bill, known as the Related Agencies.

These four institutions each play an important role in fulfilling our commitment to serving veterans, so I am pleased to welcome these witnesses here today.

They are:

  • Robert J. Dalessandro, the Acting Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission;
  • The Honorable Margaret Bartley, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims;
  • Karen Durham-Aguilera, the Executive Director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery; and
  • General Stephen T. Rippe, Chief Executive Officer of the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

I often describe this section of the bill as “small but mighty.”

These agencies may be smaller than the Military Construction accounts or the Department of Veterans Affairs, compared to those larger budgets, but their missions are no less important.

You’ve all heard me say that our subcommittee is the only one with jurisdiction that covers the entirety of a servicemember’s career, from the day they arrive at a military facility to the day they are buried.

These four agencies are part of that full arc of care and services that our bill is responsible for.

The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is a crucial part of the claims process that ensures that veterans are getting a fair shake in having their appeals heard.

The Armed Forces Retirement Home cares for those who have served our country, ensuring a healthy and dignified retirement in their later years.

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for so many of our veterans, as well as in many ways serving as a site for our nation’s collective mourning.

And the American Battle Monuments Commission is charged with caring for the gravesites and telling the stories of those who died overseas in world wars and other conflicts, ensuring their sacrifice is never forgotten.

So as you can see, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that these agencies have the resources they need to function effectively, while still making responsible use of taxpayer funds.

While we are still waiting on the release of the President’s full budget for most of these agencies, a common thread for many of these agencies over the past several years is that the budget request has been lower than the actual need.

We saw a pattern of flat funding requests for these agencies, despite significant increases over the years in workloads, personnel costs, security needs, and maintenance backlogs.

This subcommittee has worked diligently to provide needed resources to these agencies in the past several cycles and to target that funding to the programs and initiatives where it is most needed.

I look forward to discussing today how that funding has been put to use, and what your needs may look like going forward, in as much detail as you are able to give.

Aside from fiscal year needs, there are also a number of overarching efforts underway at each of your agencies that this hearing will give us an opportunity to check in on.

From Arlington National Cemetery’s much-needed expansion and land reconfiguration, to addressing the growing caseload of veterans claims, we want to hear from you on how these efforts are going and what more Congress needs to be doing to help improve services and programs.

Of course, this is all happening during a pandemic that I know has affected the ways each of your agencies work.

I want to particularly recognize the Armed Forces Retirement Home which has fought so hard to keep residents and staff safe in a challenging health care setting, to say the least, but all of you are operating in an environment that affects employee work, visitor expectations, and maintenance procedures.

117th Congress