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Pending Legislation

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STATEMENT OF

ERIC A. HILLEMAN, DIRECTOR

NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE

VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

WITH RESPECT TO

 

Pending Legislation

 

WASHINGTON, DC June 10, 2010

MADAM CHAIRWOMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.1 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and our Auxiliaries, the VFW would like to thank this committee for the opportunity to present our views on this today’s pending legislation.

 

H.R. 114 - Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Business Benefit Act

 

This legislation seeks to allow a veteran to utilize Chapter 30 or Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits for business expenses, start up, and/or operation as determined by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The VFW opposes this legislation. The intent of the GI Bill is to provide training and education. The GI Bill is a unique program where veterans may attend business school or take classes to strengthen their business aspirations. The purpose of the GI Bill is to provide education, training, and the skills to help veterans succeed, not to provide start up money. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has programs, which address the specific needs of business start-ups.

The VFW opposes this shift in the use of MGIB as VA has not historically managed business programs, and this may result in duplicative efforts between VA and SBA. The SBA in association with the VA established the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE), which extends services to veterans who own or who want to start small businesses. It helps federal contracting offices identify these businesses and provides potential contracting and subcontracting opportunities. The CVE also works with Veterans Business Development Centers nationwide to help veterans with business financing, management, bonding, and technical support. Further, the SBA provides opportunities for small grants and loan guarantees to help veterans start and grown their business. Any veteran wishing to venture into entrepreneurship should be referred to these 2

 

organizations and opportunities, not the VA. The VFW supports improving these services wherever possible.

 

H.R. 3685 - a bill to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include on the main page of the Internet website of the Department of Veterans Affairs a hyperlink to the VetSuccess Internet website and to publicize such Internet website.

 

This legislation seeks to regulate VA’s Website by mandating that a link for the VetSuccess page be accessible from VA’s homepage under a unique subheading entitled, "Veterans Employment." This bill would also promote veterans employment tools through the use of advertisements and outreach. Currently, VetSucess is accessible through a dropdown menu on VA’s homepage. While the VFW strongly supports all efforts to improve, outreach and promote veterans employment.

We cannot support this bill because its mandate is too constrictive on the display of information on VA’s Website. VA must present a vast number of programs and services to all visitors to the VA Website in the most clean and efficient manner. Legislating specific menus, headings, or access points could have the effect of limiting VA from promoting other programs or services that are just as valuable to its visitors.

 

H.R. 4319 - Specially Adapted Housing Assistance Enhancement Act of 2009

 

The VFW supports this legislation to create a pilot program in Fiscal Year 2011 to provide financial assistance for disabled veterans to adapt the house of a family member they are temporarily residing in, and not have that dollar amount count against any assistance they are eligible to receive to build or buy and modify their own home. According to a June 2009 Government Accountability Office report, only nine veterans have taken advantage of the temporary residence adaptation grants. The report listed the fact that these grants count against the money received for building their own home as one of the reasons the grant was applied for so infrequently. H.R. 4319 will help disabled veterans modify a family member’s home without penalty. This bill could be a significant step toward improving the quality of life for disabled veterans, which is a legislative improvement the VFW will always support.

 

H.R. 4635 - Foreclosure Mandatory Mediation Act of 2010

 

This bill amends the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 to require the mortgagee, mortgagor, and a housing counseling agency to provide mediation as a prerequisite to a foreclosure proceeding or a sheriff sale. This bill would impact the entire housing industry, help numerous Americans facing foreclosure, and is not exclusive for veterans or Veterans Affairs. H.R. 4635 has the potential to save veteran’s home; the VFW supports this legislation.

 

H.R. 4664 – a bill to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide for a one-year moratorium on the sale or foreclosure of property owned by surviving spouses of servicemembers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

 

Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, servicemembers are exempt from foreclosure or seizure of property for a period of 9 months following their return from deployment. This legislation would extend this same protection, to a surviving spouse of a deceased 3

 

servicemember supporting OIF/OEF. This bill would also extend the period of protection for survivors from 9 months to one year.

The VFW is proud to support this legislation, which would help provide some relief and peace of mind to survivors dealing with the financial and emotional aftermath associated with the servicemembers death.

 

H.R. 4765 – a bill to amend Title 38, United States Code, to authorize individuals who are pursuing programs of rehabilitation, education, or training under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to receive work-study allowances for certain outreach services provided through congressional offices, and for other purposes.

 

We support amending Title 38, United States Code, to authorize individuals who are pursuing programs of rehabilitation, education, or training under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to receive work-study allowances for certain outreach services provided through congressional offices, and for other purposes.

As this subcommittee is well aware, the sunset date of the work-study pilot, authorizing work study for outreach/domiciliary care/cemeteries, is fast approaching on June 30, 2010. Currently, this extension is tied up in the benefits bill (HR 1037) that has yet to be completed from last year. The VFW would like to stress the importance of work-study programs in the offices that rely on these talented veterans, and attest to the education and professional development each veteran gains by participating in this program. We look forward to continuing to work with both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees to address this legislation and ensure these veterans continue to have the opportunity to develop professionally while in college.

 

H.R. 5360 - Blinded Veterans Adaptive Housing Improvement Act 2010

 

This legislation expands eligible ocular injuries for compensation under Title 38, Section 2101 (b)(2)(A). It changes a "5/200 eyesight or less" to "20/200 eyesight or less, or a peripheral field of 20 degrees or less." 20/200 eyesight is better than 5/200 eyesight. Resulting in greater compensation for individuals with 20/200 vision.

The top number represents the distance in feet from an object to discern the nature of the object. Also, peripheral field describes the area viewed outside of the direct line of sight; 20 percent means only 1/5th of a persons’ peripheral vision is clear. Hence, this legislation expands compensation to veterans with restricted peripheral vision as well.

The VFW strongly supports this legislation. 4

 

Draft Bill - Veterans-Friendly Business Act of 2010

 

The VFW strongly supports this legislation. This legislation, under the direction of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, establishes an annual award program for businesses that dramatically contribute to veterans’ employment. This bill will help raise awareness and stress the value of veterans in the American workplace. The VFW applauds businesses who lead in this field. They deserve due recognition to set the example for all employers.

The VFW encourages Congress to consider adding the accolades of the Secretary of Labor to this award. In adding DOL, the government has the opportunity to elevate veterans’ employment among the two agencies that are charged with addressing this issue. We feel employers would be further rewarded by the due recognition from both Secretaries.

Thank you, this concludes our testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions this committee may have.

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STATEMENT OF

ERIC A. HILLEMAN, DIRECTOR

NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE

VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON HEALTH

UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

WITH RESPECT TO

VARIOUS HEALTH CARE RELATED ISSUES AND DRAFT LEGISLATION

WASHINGTON, D.C. May 27, 2010

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.1 million men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and our Auxiliaries, I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s legislative hearing.

HR 4062, Veterans’ Health and Radiation Safety Act

VFW supports legislation that would amend Title 38, United States Code, to make certain improvements in the administration of medical facilities within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Section II mandates that VA conduct annual reporting to Congress on low volume programs, treating less than 100 patients a year. Section III demands adequate training for employees and contractors on appropriate reporting of medical services and programs where the use of radioactive isotopes is present. Section IV requires all contractors and contracting offices to adhere to rigorous guidelines when using this method of health care treatment.

The use of radioisotopes at VA hospitals has increased the levels of risk to patients who undergo these potentially life-saving treatments and tests. Diagnostic techniques in nuclear medicine allow a non-invasive method of detecting and evaluating most cancers. Further, some cancerous growths can be controlled or eliminated by irradiating the detected growth.

VFW asks Congress and VA to strongly demonstrate that safety and training are provided to all employees, contractors, and non-government entities who are employed at VA where radioactive isotopes are used. We believe this bill is the correct step toward this goal. 2

HR 4465, to amend Title 38, United States Code , to direct the Secretary of VA to take into account dependent children when determining the veteran's financial status when receiving hospital care or medical services

The VFW supports this legislation to allow certain dependents to be counted in determining earnings thresholds for the purpose of seeking benefits and services at VA.

This legislation requires VA to recognize children placed in the legal custody of the veteran as a result of a court order. Under the bill, in order for the child to be counted as eligible, they must be in the custody of the veteran for at least 12 consecutive months, require support at least 50% of the time, and/or be under the age of 21 ( or 23 if enrolled as a full-time student). Currently, children placed in the legal custody of a veteran are not counted for the purposes of health care categories or qualification for pension or benefits. VFW believes HR 4465 will correct that inequity and passing it is the right thing to do.

HR 4505, to enable State homes to furnish nursing home care to parents, whose children died while serving in the Armed Forces

VFW supports this legislation, which would authorize state-run nursing homes to accept the surviving parents of a child who died while serving in the armed services. The VFW believes the care of all Gold Star parents is a sacred trust and this bill would provide a critical benefit at a time when they may need long-term care. We ask Congress to enact this legislation quickly.

Draft Bill, World War II Hearing Aid Treatment Act

VFW admires the goal of this legislation but cannot support it as written. Millions of Americans participated in combat where nearly 300,000 were killed and 671,000 were wounded. Almost everything about modern warfare involves loud, often incredibly loud, noise. Acoustic trauma is a major cause of hearing loss. Those who fought in the island campaigns of the Pacific, North Africa, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge to the River Elbe, or flew through the flak and fighter filled skies of France and Germany were exposed to incredible amounts of hearing damaging noise. However, their experiences in training for and fighting a war are, in terms of noise exposure, virtually identical to their younger brothers and sisters who trained and fought in every other war from Korea to Vietnam to the current conflicts in the Middle East.

We cannot support this legislation because the only factual difference between their exposure to noise and that of all veterans is that they are older. We believe the bill is inequitable as it discriminates against other veterans based on age. We would be happy to work with the committee on clarifying hearing aid benefits for all veterans.

Draft Bill, Improved VA Outreach Act of 2010

The VFW supports the Improved VA Outreach Act of 2010. This bill aims to improve outreach activities within the Department of Veterans Affairs by coordinating the efforts among the offices of the Secretary, Public Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Cemetery Administration. 3

In order to increase the effectiveness of VA outreach, it also directs the Secretary to annually review activities performed by VHA, VBA, state veterans agencies, county veterans agencies, VSOs and other federal departments ( referred to in section 6306), to include the National Guard and Reserve component bureaus under Section 561 of Title 38, C.F.R.

The VFW has always encouraged and supported increased awareness of benefits and services provided by VA to veterans. We believe that all veterans and their survivors should have access to up-to-date information about services and benefits for which they may be eligible. However, a key component missing in the language of this bill is training. We believe that effective outreach can only be achieved through the proper training of individuals performing outreach activities. We also note that since any successful initiative will result in increased claim submissions to VA, funding for VBA adjudication must keep pace with increases in the number of claims filed as a result of greater outreach.

We applaud sections 4 and 5, which establish an advisory committee to provide a biennial report on outreach activities. The committee will bring together various experts in veterans’ issues to make recommendations on how to improve VA benefits, services and programs. Reaching out to federal, state and local stakeholders encourages the sharing of best practices and helps VA in identifying the needs of eligible veterans and their families. This is especially critical now with many injured servicemembers returning from the current conflicts unaware of their benefits.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to address any questions you may have. Thank you

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