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Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Republican Member, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good Afternoon. 

Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure to be here in Jacksonville, the home town of our colleague Corrine Brown.  Corrine and I came to Congress in the same year and I have enjoyed serving with her over these years.

Ander Crenshaw, it is also good to see you here today.  I know the fourth District of Florida is well represented by my very good friend.  Ander has established himself in Congress as a respected voice on defense issues and a champion for our men and women in uniform.  

He has served on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs since his appointment to the Appropriations Committee in the 108th Congress.  Through his role on the Appropriation’s Committee, he has been instrumental in supporting increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and securing funding for the acquisition and construction of the new Jacksonville National Cemetery.

Many here may recognize him for his annual Veterans Recognition Ceremonies.  It is very meaningful to honor those who put themselves in harms way to defend our freedom.  And, I thank you for holding these events and also the over 2,000 local veterans who have been honored for their service to our country.  

I also want to extend a warm welcome to everyone in attendance on behalf of our deputy Ranking Member, Cliff Stearns.  I know he wanted to be here today, but unfortunately was unable to participate.     

Cliff is a long-standing leader of this Committee and a steadfast advocate for generous funding for veterans health care and earned benefits, particularly education.

He has actively supported the call for a new regional health care facility in Marion County and expansion of the VA Hospital in Gainesville.  For years he has been working on both these projects which have broken ground and I know he looks forward to seeing both projects come to fruition.

I appreciate that we are having this hearing to discuss how VA is moving forward to expand services and meet the needs of veterans who live in the Jacksonville area. 

New technologies make it possible to provide more diagnostic, specialty and surgery services in an outpatient setting, rather than a hospital.  To maximize the use of these advances and bring a broad array of specialized services closer to where veterans live, the VA is moving from clinics to new “Ambulatory Care Centers”, like the one planned for Jacksonville. 

As all of you know, the current Jacksonville VA Clinic is located next to the University of Florida’s Health Science Center at Shand’s Hospital.  The North Florida VA health care system has a strong and meaningful affiliation with the University of Florida.  And, VA expansion at the current site with a collaborative partnership could yield substantial benefits for veterans. 

Sharing is not a new concept.  VA has been sharing human capital for years with its affiliations among our nation’s teaching universities. 

In Charleston, SC, there is a tremendous opportunity for VA to replace its aging hospital with a mutually beneficial agreement to share facilities and integrate the delivery of veterans’ health care with the new Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) hospital.  This approach to share facilities, which I take great pride in developing, is now being referred to as “The Charleston Model” within the VA. 

As we work with the VA and MUSC, we continue to see that their goals are not that different and we can set a course to build a new paradigm for cooperation that will be an example throughout the nation.  

I believe that collaboration – whether it is between VA and DOD, VA and its Medical Affiliates, or VA and other private-sector entities is a powerful tool that VA must leverage to ensure that our veterans have the greatest access to the most advanced medicine and medical technology. 

As we look at the future development of the VA, it is also vital that the VA establish strategic and long-term plans for energy sustainability.   Especially here in the “Sunshine State”, VA must consider the use of solar energy to power VA health care facilities.   I am pleased that VA is planning to fund at least 24 feasibility studies for solar photovoltaic systems in its medical facilities, including four sites in Florida - Orlando, Bay Pines, Tampa and Miami. 

I strongly encourage VA to consider solar and other energy efficiencies in the developing projects in Gainesville and Jacksonville.     

In closing, I would like to thank all of our witnesses for appearing before the Committee today.   Again, on behalf of Cliff Stearns, I want to recognize Stan Jordan - a retired Army Colonel and member of the Duval County School Board.  Colonel Jordan was a former member of the Florida House Representatives and Chairman of Florida’s House Committee on Military & Veterans' Affairs.   I would also like to thank Dan Hughes, Chairman of the Jacksonville National Cemetery Advisory Committee for being here today.    

It is important that we listen to the views of local veterans on how VA is serving you and I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses.