Renewed and more intensive scrutiny of the Department of Veterans Affairs is a top priority for Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), new chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee (HVAC). As a result of the Republicans gaining the House majority in the recent midterm elections, Miller replaces former chair Bob Filner, D-Calif., who now serves as the minority party's ranking member on the committee.
Miller presided over his first official committee session the morning of Jan. 26, as the group gathered formally for a brief organizational meeting. He and Filner introduced new committee members, welcomed returning members, introduced committee staffers and announced the appointment of subcommittee chairpersons. The committee also adopted several resolutions, one of which guarantees members 48 hours to review bills being considered, thus avoiding "surprises" in committee hearings.
The last action of the meeting was to officially approve and adopt the committee's "Oversight Plan for 112th Congress" – a collection of working agendas for HVAC's four subcommittees (Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs, Economic Opportunity, Health, and Oversight & Investigations). The American Legion will be testifying regularly at committee and subcommittee hearings throughout the year.
Miller shared thoughts during a brief question-and-answer session with The American Legion just before the committee's opening meeting:
The American Legion: "What is at the top of your committee's priority list this session?"
Miller: "Renewed oversight. During the last several years, and during the Bush administration, there has really been very little oversight of VA. Given the funding problems that exist at the federal level, I think it's critical that we all take a strong look at where the money is being spent. Is it being used for the appropriate things? And are the veterans who have earned the benefits receiving them?"
Q: "How do you view your committee's relationship with VA? Adversarial? Cooperative?"
A: "We go in with an open mind (and) open eyes, with the Department of Veterans Affairs. (VA) Secretary (Eric) Shinseki and I have a great working relationship – as do I with the ranking member, Bob Filner. We are both committed to working together for the common good. We will have differences, but hopefully we can resolve those differences amicably."
Q: "How do you view the role of veterans service organizations (VSOs) like The American Legion in your committee's work?"
A: "There is no question that VSOs play a very important role in informing their membership – not only of what's going on both in Washington and around the globe, but making sure their membership (has) a finger on the pulse of what's going on in their nation's capital."