Pelosi Floor Speech in Support of Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 7105, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his great leadership. He makes us so proud as Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and I proudly rise in support of H.R. 7105, a strong, bipartisan package of legislation that meets or strives to meet our responsibility to honor the service and sacrifice of those who don the uniform.
The strength of this package and its support across the aisle is a testament to the outstanding leadership of Chairman Mark Takano. We are very proud of him, as a Californian, as a Member of this House.
And the bill has been all hands on deck effort, and I salute the many Members whose provisions and perspective have strengthened it. Congresswoman Julia Brownley, the Chair of the Health Subcommittee, on the Women's Veterans Task Force, who has worked tirelessly to achieve gender equity at VA, including, now, through the landmark Deborah Sampson Act, included in this omnibus.
Congressman Mike Levin, a pride of the Freshman Class, who introduced this omnibus. As Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, he has been a champion for the financial security of our veterans on everything from the GI Bill to anti-homelessness initiatives.
And to you, Mr. Ranking Member Roe, thank you for your leadership and your friendship and prioritizing our veterans. And I'm so proud that this bill is named for you. Congratulations to you, and thank you.
I also want to recognize former Senator Johnny Isakson: what a great person he is, what a great member of the Senate he has been. I enjoyed being with him when we were saluting our veterans, whether it was at Normandy – at Normandy, where he made that visit there and made us all so proud.
He always was bipartisan, reaching across the aisle for our veterans and it was a joy to serve in this House as he served as a Senator. But I want him to know that he is very missed and, again, recognized for his leadership.
Mr. Speaker, last year, many Members were blessed to be able to travel to Europe to mark 75 years [since] the Normandy landing and of the Battle of the Bulge on another visit. I mentioned Johnny, the Senator, at Normandy. At the commemoration of the Battle of Bulge, almost one year ago this day, I met a veteran in his nineties who urged us to pray for peace. To pray for peace.
He spoke for the veterans who were gathered there in the program with the King of Belgium, the President of Germany – very interesting – and, for us, well, the Secretary of Defense spoke, but the veteran spoke for the veterans. And he talked about the camaraderie and the band of brothers and all of that, but at the end he said, ‘Pray for peace.’
In that spirit of peace, hope and respect, the Congress has honored our veterans, their families and caregivers with transformative action. From the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to expand benefits to those exposed to Agent Orange, to the really, cruelly unfair Widows Tax and Kiddie Tax – remember that? To passing the COMPACT Act to combat – combat veteran suicide, and to investing nearly $20 billion in VA readiness and pandemic research.
Now, the House is building on this bipartisan momentum with this omnibus, which includes provisions from nearly 60 House-passed bills. This bill strengthens veterans’ education, investing nearly $350 million in improving GI benefits for surviving family members, increasing work study options and fellowship opportunities for veterans, securing benefits for those who cannot complete courses due to the pandemic and more.
It safeguards veterans’ benefits, including by modernizing the benefit system with commonsense reforms, investing in benefits for surviving spouses and improving eligibility for housing and home loan assistance for National Guard and Reserve Members.
This bill protects veterans’ health, including care for those exposed to the coronavirus and burn pits, improving VA scheduling process, increasing reporting from state veteran homes in the light of the COVID outbreaks.
This bill is focused on justice, equality and opportunity. And we are particularly proud of the steps taken to help servicemembers transition to civilian work force, and to improve services and VA access to Native American veterans, including eliminating their copays.
House Members can take pride in the inclusion of Congresswoman Brownley's Deborah Sampson Act, the crown jewel in this package and the most comprehensive women's veterans bill in over a decade. This bill improves the health, benefits, education and VA support system for women veterans, including by repairing – requiring the VA to create the anti-harassment and anti-assault policy, improving women-specific primary care, expanding access to child care and strengthening mental health initiatives.
This bill could not be more timely. Last week, the VA Inspector General's report found an appalling coverup and discrediting of a woman veteran who works in the taskforce that creates – that created this legislation, at the hands of Secretary Wilkie and top VA officials. It is a profound injustice for any patriot with the courage to serve to have to experience having his or her voice silenced and integrity questioned.
Congress will not relent until every servicemember, every veteran and every woman can live free from the fear of assault or abuse. This package was drafted in consultation – this is what I’m so proud of because, on a regular basis, we meet with the veterans service organizations and it is their opportunity to tell us what their priorities are.
There's so many issues that needed to be addressed, some of them I have already mentioned here that have been addressed over time and right now. But, their wisdom and their experience and their patriotism really helped shape our agenda. And thank you, Mr. Takano, for listening and for acting upon the knowledge and values they give us.
This package was drafted in consultation with leading veterans groups and we're proud to have the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Military Officers Association of America, Student Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, the National Military Family Association, Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success, just to name a few. The list goes on.
As we send this package to the President's desk, House Democrats are ready to take further action to honor our veterans in the next Congress working alongside the Biden-[Harris] – the Biden-Harris Administration.
Just as the military pledges, as our dear Chairman recognized, that on the battlefield, we leave no soldier behind, when they come home, we leave no veteran behind. It’s particularly personal to me, having four brothers who served in the armed services, an uncle who died in World War II and a daughter who was so committed to veterans that practically every day she’ll say to me, ‘What did you do for our veterans today?’ – and not just on Veterans Day.
As we send this package – just, again, as we send this, we recognize that our work on behalf of veterans, their families and their caregivers must be bipartisan and of the highest priority. And, with that, I urge passage of this.
And, as I say to those VSOs when they come in, understand this: for you and to honor you, we pledge to always work, as much as possible, in a bipartisan way. That's the way they would want us to do so. That's why I’m particularly proud, Chairman Roe, to recognize your leadership and so happy that this bill is named for you and for Johnny Isakson as well.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time and appreciation to Mr. Takano, once again, for his great leadership. Thank you.