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Pelosi: 'Veterans Appropriations Bill Keeps Promise of America to America's Veterans'

Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor this afternoon supporting H.R. 2648, the 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, which contains the largest increase for the Veterans' Administration in its 77-year history.

Below are her remarks:

'Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman [Mr. Edwards] for his kind words and for his extraordinary leadership on behalf of America's veterans -- while they are in the service, in terms of the quality of their life, which is addressed in this legislation, and when they become veterans.  He has had the well-being of America's veterans as a priority for so long in his political career. 

'Mr. Chairman, today is probably one of the top three happiest days of my official life, because today is a day where under the leadership Mr. Edwards, Mr. Spratt, Mr. Obey, Mr. Skelton, Mr. Murtha, and Mr. Filner, this Congress of the United States is able to keep its promise to America's veterans.  It's a day of respect for them. 

'In the military, soldiers say that they will not leave any soldier on the battlefield.  We say and when they come home, we will not leave any veteran behind. 

'For the five years, we have met on a regular basis with the veterans' services organizations and representatives of veterans from across the country.  We asked them what their priorities were, because their needs were so great, and frankly, their concerns were so neglected for the last few years.  We said, 'We cannot try to do everything; what are your priorities?'  This was when Democrats were in the minority.

'Their first priority a couple of years there was the concurrent receipt issue - Veterans Disability Tax, which we made some progress on.  In the next term, which was the last term, we were still in the minority, we still took a piece of what their agenda was and that was survivor benefits.  All of these were important to the veterans, but there were many more concerns that they had. 

'So it wasn't until the Democrats assumed the majority this year that we could keep the promise of America to America's veterans.  That's why it was so thrilling to be with the representatives of the veterans groups, some of them I will name: the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Veterans, and the Iraq-Afghan Veterans of America.  To be with them and other representatives of veterans a couple of days ago, when we stood in front of the Capitol and announced that today with this vote under Chairman Chet Edwards' leadership, we would be getting the largest increase in the history of our country and in the 77-year history of the Veterans' Administration. 

'Why is that necessary?  Because there is a backlog of several hundred thousand cases at the VA.  That's an injustice.  That's an immorality.  And they needed more caseworkers to address a two-year backlog.  You had an issue, you went there and had to wait two years if you were a veteran.  Well the veterans were there when they were needed.  They heeded the call, they came to our defense, and now we're saying they have to wait two years for us to consider their case.  It's just not right. 

'In our Democratic budget, the two priorities were America's children and America's veterans.  In the appropriations process, we are able to honor that blueprint set forth in the budget without adding to the deficit. 

'This is an issue in urban America, it's big issue in rural America.  In rural America, 75 percent of the people know somebody closely who is serving or has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And everybody in our country knows many people who have served in the military.  Four of my brothers served in the military.  We all have an obligation to our veterans; it's more than just talking about it; we have to act upon those words, act upon those values, and I thank Chairman Chet Edwards for giving us that opportunity to reward our heroes.  

'So I hope we have a unanimous vote on this to show the bipartisan support for veterans that I know exists in our Congress.  I'm proud that we were able to deliver on the promise once we took the majority of the House.'