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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 DISABILITY ASSISTANCE & MEMORIAL AFFAIRS

UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

WITH RESPECT TO

PENDING LEGISLATION

WASHINGTON, DC July 1, 2010

MR. CHAIRMAN 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 today’s pending legislation.

H.R. 3407, Severely Injured Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2009.

We are proud to support this bill, which would increase aid and attendance for severely injured veterans, qualify severely burned veterans adaptive grants, increase pension for housebound veterans, expand aid and attendance to cover veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI), and increase the service pension for Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) recipients.

Under this legation aid and attendance would increase by 50 percent. Section 2 increases the rate from $1,893 to $2,840 for veterans qualifying for specific levels of Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) and from $2,820 to $4,230 for veterans in receipt of SMC and in need of regular aid and attendance. Further, section 5 allows veterans suffering from TBI to qualify for SMC, as well as aid and attendance. Veterans suffering from seriously debilitating injuries, such as TBI and other injuries that qualify for SMC, will benefit greatly from this increase in compensation. Rising costs of in-home care and assistance have forced veterans and their families into tradeoffs between seeking the assistance needed and purchasing basic staples. With this increase, veterans will be able to live with a higher level of dignity and quality of life.  

Section 3 expands eligibly for those who have suffered severe burn injuries to qualify for automobile and adaptive equipment grants. Given the severe burns caused by many improvised explosive devices, veterans are living with scar tissue that decreases range of motion and limits the use of digits and extremities. Burn injuries, in some cases, are extreme enough to require 2

special adaptation to simply achieve basic functionality and independent living. The VFW believes every possible accommodation should be made to restore the highest level of independence possible to these deserving veterans.

 

Section 4 increases certain special monthly pension by 10 percent for veterans from $4,340 to $4,774 for a single veteran and from $5,441 to $5,985 for veterans with dependents. The VFW supports this increase.

The VFW enthusiastically supports this raising the CMH monthly pension to $2000. Section 6 seeks to increase the rate of special pension for CMH recipients from $1,000 a month up to an additional $1,000 a month; but this additional pension is to be determined by the Secretary subject to funding availability. We encourage Congress to appropriate the necessary funding to provide CMH recipients with a full monthly pension of $2,000. These extraordinarily brave American heroes deserve our support and recognition for their sacrifice. As the few remaining CMH recipients age, this compensation will serve to support our prized heroes in their latter years.

Finally, the VFW supports Section 7, to extend pension to support certain hospitalized veterans from September 30, 2011, to September 30, 2021.  

 

 

H.R. 3787, the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act

H.R. 3787 has in mind an extremely important goal: to give the men and women who choose to serve our nation in the Reserve Component the recognition that their service demands. The mission of many guard and reservists is to facilitate and support the deployments of their comrades, so the unit is fully prepared when called upon. Unfortunately, the law does not currently allow those who serve several years and are entitled to retirement pay, TRICARE, and other benefits, to call themselves ‘veterans’. Such men and women have been extremely busy and have made extraordinary sacrifices and we believe they have earned the right to call themselves a veteran.

In recent years, Congress has enhanced benefits to the members of the Guard and Reserve to reflect our nation’s continued reliance on their service. This bill adds noble recognition to those Americans who stand at the ready for the duration of their career. Congressman Walz has reaffirmed his intent by amending the language to ensure there will be no budgetary impact to by bestowing the noble distinction of ‘veteran’ on this group of men and women.

The VFW is proud to support passage of this bill.

HR 4541, Veterans Pensions Protection Act of 2010

This legislation would protect pension payments from including insurance settlements of any kind from the calculation amount in determining pension. Further, this bill would require VA to 3

make determinations on the fair market value and replacement value of any assets claimed for exclusion under the insurance settlement.

The VFW supports the intent of this legislation, but cannot support this language. We believe that this bill would require VA to make further determinations regarding replacement value in the cases of insurance settlements. The current pension threshold for a veteran without dependents is $11,830 annually. In order to exclude any income resulting from an insurance settlement from factoring against that amount, VA would need to further examine the values associated with the insurance settlement. These additional decisions will further delay and complicate a relatively simple benefit.

We would suggest this legislation be rewritten to accept any insurance settlement as excluded from the calculation of pension. It is likely this will achieve the noble goal of aiding a veteran in serious financial distress, while allowing them to replace the loss of damaged property. This also prevents VA from expending more resources to develop other pension claims.

HR 5064, Fair Access to Veterans Benefits Act of 2010

VFW supports this bill, which would provide some flexibility in the equitable tolling of timelines for the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and for other purposes. We believe that this bill creates flexibility that could favor veterans within the claims appeal process. The current 120-day deadline to file an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) does not leave room for veterans that may have unique circumstances due to medical or mental health problems. An example of this is the David Henderson case. Because he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, he was unable to meet the 120-day deadline and was denied the right to appeal to the CAVC.

This is but one of many instances where a veteran was unable to file a timely appeal due to the effects of a mental condition. Subsequently, he was denied the ability to have his appeal heard by the appropriate appellate body. We applaud the change that this legislation makes in granting veterans, of past and present, latitude in the appeals process. It provides a just and equitable system for those who have suffered due to circumstances beyond of their control and ensures they have their day in court.

H.R. 5549, the Rating and Processing Individuals’ Disability Claims Act or the Rapid Claims Act

The VFW is encouraged by this legislation, which would provide VA a mechanism for identifying and expediting claims that are ‘ready-to-rate’ by granting the Secretary the authority to wave the mandatory 60-day development period with the written permission of the veteran. If a veteran submits a statement, which indicates the veteran’s intent to submit a fully developed claim, the veteran would have one year from the date of submission to provide the Secretary with a fully developed claim and access to the expeditious treatment of their claim. If the Secretary 4

determines a claim is not fully developed, the VA will notify the veteran within 30 days of the evidence and information required to rate the case.

The backlog of veterans’ claims for disability compensation and pension is approaching 900,000 and over a hundred thousand new claims are expected to be filed every year for the foreseeable future. This legislation will create the incentive for veterans and their duly appointed representatives to present VA with fully developed cases in a timely fashion. In turn, it will reduce the time and energy required of VA to track down external evidence while developing cases.

While this legislation creates an incentive to compile outside evidence and quickly address a veteran’s claim, it does not stress the importance of quality rating decisions. The VFW has always believed quality decisions are central to addressing the long-term backlog and instilling confidence in the VA’s disability benefits system.

The VFW cannot support this legislation as written due to the absence of the preservation of the date of claim in cases described under Section 2, paragraph (2); which allows a veteran to submit a statement of intent to submit a fully developed claim. As worded, we believe the intent of this section was to imply that a veteran could preserve a date of claim and still access the expedited claim process. We would be happy to fully support this legislation with the inclusion of language preserving the right to the date of claim.

Thank you for the opportunity to present our views before this subcommittee, and we welcome your questions.

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