WASHINGTON - The GOP chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, promised on Thursday a thorough review of spending for veterans' programs.
His newly appointed counterpart in the Senate, Washington Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, said she will be watching Republicans “like a hawk” to ensure veterans get their financial due.
The House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees have jurisdiction over the Veterans Affairs Department, one of the largest federal agencies with a $114 billion budget and 300,000 employees. It provides benefits checks and medical services to the nation’s 22 million veterans, including the thousands coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with mental and physical wounds.
House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Miller, a conservative from the Florida Panhandle, said the VA has had record budget increases in the last decade with little oversight by either party over how the money was spent.
“As we move forward, all areas will have to be reviewed, and that includes looking at the Defense Department, looking at Homeland Security and looking at Veterans Affairs,” Miller said.
Miller said he’s concerned about the billions spent within the VA on contracting, but it’s unclear where the review of veterans’ spending will lead. He said veterans should receive the benefits they’ve earned, but he also thinks veterans understand why fiscal responsibility is necessary.
“I think it’s fair to say the veterans in this country have sacrificed in their service to our nation, but they are willing to do what’s necessary to help get this country’s fiscal house in order,” said Miller.
Murray, who was named to the top Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee job on Thursday, said she’ll be monitoring what Republicans do.
“Believe me, I’ve been here before, I have heard the promises, ‘Oh, don’t worry, we haven’t touched them. They’re fine.’ Then come to find out, that no, on the ground, everywhere it’s really important, they’re really impacting services, and I will be watching them like a hawk,” said Murray.
Murray said the Republicans’ “slash everything motive” doesn’t recognize the needs veterans have. She said the VA still doesn’t do enough to be an advocate for veterans.
“We cannot say, ‘Gee, sorry,’ to them,” Murray said. “We have to say: ‘our country is there for you.’”
Both Miller and Murray said a top priority is tackling the disability claims backlog that leaves veterans waiting months or even years to get a claim processed.