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Now, ladies and gentlemen, there is a vote on. I have to rush to get over there, but I am just so glad to have you here. I hope that I can get back, but if I don't, be assured that your record will be studied carefully and the words that you say here will be harkened to by members of this committee. Thank you very much.
Senator STAFFORD [presiding]. Commander Frank Randazzo, one way you get to preside over a meeting like this is to have a rollcall vote and conferences going on for all the more senior Senators around. But I am very proud to be here.
The committee would like to insert in the record at this point a statement from Senator Buckley who could not be present.
[The written statement of Senator Buckley follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. JAMES L. BUCKEY, A U.S. SENATOR FROM THE
STATE OF NEW YORK
Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of this Committee:
I very much regret that the demands of my current schedule have conspired to prevent me from appearing here in person to present the new National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans to this Committee, as I would have liked to do. I look forward to joining Commander Randazzo next year in presenting his successor.
I am both pleased and proud, on behalf of New York State, that the Disabled American Veterans will be led during the coming year by a National Commander who is not only a New Yorker, but also is a gentleman whom I know personally and respect highly. With a background as Chapter Commander, New York Department Commander, National Junior Vice Commander, and—most recently, National Senior Vice Commander–Frank J. Randazzo is obviously superbly qualified from the standpoints of organizational background and administrative experience to assume the leadership post of National Commander.
With a combat background which includes the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, the Rhineland, hospitalization and five Bronze Stars, Frank Randazzo obviously knows a great deal about what it is to be a disabled American veteran, and about what this organization means to those veterans who have been disabled, and to those who remain so.
On behalf of the State of New York and also of the Department of New York, which made such splendid progress under this gentleman's leadership I congratulate Frank Randazzo on his election as National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans, I commend the DAV on its excellent choice, and I look forward to working closely with both Commander Randazzo and the DAV in future efforts on behalf of America's disabled veterans.
Senator STAFFORD. We are prepared now, Mr. Randazzo, to hear your statement to this committee.
STATEMENT OF FRANK J. RANDAZZO, NATIONAL COMMANDER OF THE DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS, ACCOMPANIED BY RONALD V. DRACH, NATIONAL DIRECTOR OF EMPLOYMENT; NORMAN B. HARTNETT, NATIONAL SERVICE DIRECTOR; WILLIAM B. GARDINER, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR; AND DENVEL D. ADAMS, NATIONAL ADJUTANT
Mr. RANDAZZO. Thank you, Senator.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it is a distinct pleasure to appear before you on behalf of the 517,000 members of the Disabled American Veterans and the 50,000 ladies of the DAV auxiliary to present our legislative program.
As the distinguished members of the committee are well aware, the Disabled American Veterans was organized in 1920 and chartered
by the Congress in 1932, to work for the physical, social, and economic rehabilitation of all disabled veterans.
Our objectives, which have remained unchanged throughout the years, are to obtain for those veterans who have been disabled in the wartime service of our country: Fair and just compensation for disabilities incurred, or aggravated by military service; proper medical care and treatment for such disabilities; suitable and gainful employment to offset the effects of such disabilities; adequate benefits for the widows, children, and dependent parents of veterans who die as a result of service-connected disabilities.
It, therefore, follows that our legislative program is designed to advance the interest and promote the welfare of all wounded, injured and disabled veterans, their widows and dependents.
Mr. Chairman, it is appropriate to note that this is our second appearance before this committee in 1976—a "unique” circumstance necessitated by the newly instituted Congressional Budget Process that requires all standing committees to determine their legislative initiatives very early in each new session of the Congress.
Mr. Chairman, our most recent national convention held in Miami Beach, Fla., adopted a variety of resolutions calling for improvement in the various benefit programs afforded to our country's service-connected disabled veterans, their dependents and survivors.
I shall discuss these convention mandates in a moment, but I would be remiss if I did not first express the DAV's sincere appreciation for the veterans' legislation initiated by this committee and approved by your colleagues in the 94th Congress.
Your endeavors during this period have resulted in meaningful improvements in all of the major VA benefit programs. Additionally, your aid and support have been instrumental in the ability of the DAV to achieve two other important objectives which were not within the · jurisdiction of your committee-retention of the tax-exempt status for all VA benefits and the return of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11.
The record of this committee during the last 2 years is indeed a testimonial to its genuine concern for promoting the continued welfare of our Nation's service-connected disabled veterans and their families. It instills in me the confident knowledge that the legislative proposals which I shall now discuss will receive your sympathetic and serious consideration.
Mr. Chairman, perhaps no other Federal program symbolizes the manifest concern held by the American people for their wartime disabled veterans than does the VA's disability and death compensation programs. Compensation for impaired earning capacity due to service-related wounds, injuries, and diseases is essential if the disabled veteran is to have his proper place in our society.
Our membership is, therefore, most grateful for your efforts in guiding the Veterans Disability Compensation and Survivor Benefits Act of 1976 through the Congress. The results of this legislation will soon be materially evident by the 8-percent increase in the benefit checks of some 2.5 million disabled veterans, their widows, and orphans.
We are also very pleased that the 1976 Compensation Act contains the DAV proposal for a scientific study to determine if there is a causal relationship between amputations and subsequently developing cardiovascular conditions.
Establishment of such a relationship would prove very beneficial to disabled amputee veterans in the adjudication of their claims for service-connected disability, as well as important to the cause of understanding and treating heart disease itself.
Mr. Chairman, our most recent national convention has again mandated the DAV to seek an upward adjustment in service-connected disability and death compensation payments.
In justification of this request we would point out three facts: One, experience has shown that the forces of inflation are constantly at work; two, current data indicates that the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is in excess of 25 percent; and, three, our proposal concerns a legislative initiative that would not be funded or become effective until fiscal year 1978.
With these thoughts in mind we request your continued effort to assure that these benefit payments remain adequate. We urge that you remain cognizant of these facts as you deliberate upon veterans' legislative priorities for the period October 1977 through September 1978.
Our membership has also reaffirmed a long-standing DAV objective—the presumption of service connection for the cause of death in those cases where a veteran is permanently and totally disabled from service-related conditions. Your serious consideration of this proposal in the past, as evidenced by the fact that you have twice required the VA to provide an accounting of their disposition of such service-connected death claims, is most appreciated.
Results of the second VA study are soon to be submitted to the Congress and we urge the committee to give all favorable consideration to this beneficial and humanitarian liberalization of present law.
Mr. Chairman, we have two suggested improvements which relate to the VA's Automobile and Adaptive Equipment Award as authorized under chapter 39, title 38, U.S. Code.
The first would extend entitlement to this award to service-connected disabled veterans of World War I who meet the current eligibility criteria-loss or loss of use of an extremity or blindness. We think it is a matter of simple justice that this benefit, long denied to World War I veterans, be extended to them just as it is to every qualifying veteran since World War II.
Such an extension—the cost of which is negligible—would help to allay the criticism of those who claim that the Congress is unresponsive to the needs of veterans who fought in World War I.
Our second proposal would extend entitlement to automotive adaptive equipment-excluding the $3,300 grant for vehicle purchase—to service-connected disabled veterans whose knees or hips are ankylosed at a "favorable" angle. Presently such veterans are not entitled to any automotive benefits as their disabilities do not meet the established criteria which govern a "loss of use" determination.
However, many of these veterans must purchase adaptive equip
ment at their own expense in order to meet the vehicle licensing requirements of their States. In our view, this is an unfair financial burden that could be lifted from these service-connected disabled veterans at a very low cost to the Government.
Mr. Chairman, our national convention delegates have also approved a resolution calling for the enactment of legislation which would provide for the preservation of all disability compensation rating evaluations that have been continuously in effect for 10 or more years,
In this connection, we would point out that section 359 of title 38, United States Code now provides that service-connection for any disability which has been in force for 10 or more years shall not be severed, except upon a showing of fraud or that the person concerned did not have the requisite service or character of discharge.
We are convinced that the length of time for the preservation of disability rating evaluations should be the same as that which currently applies to the protection of service-connection and we strongly urge your favorable consideration of this proposal.
Two other objectives of the DAV which relate to the VA compensation program would benefit veterans who were captured in combat and held as prisoners of war.
The first would provide a minimum service-connected disability rating of 50 percent for any veteran who was a POW for six months or more. The second would liberalize and extend the presumptive period for service-connection of chronic diseases for this same category of veterans.
It is a well documented fact that lengthy detention by the enemy in all military conflicts since World War I has caused American servicemen to suffer extreme mental and physical privation. It is also true that medical evidence required by law to substantiate a claim for disabilities incurred while a prisoner of war is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. We, therefore, urge your sympathetic consideration of liberalizing these benefits for this worthy group of combat veterans.
Mr. Chairman, I would now like to discuss the VA program of hospital and medical care—the continuation of which is of paramount concern to the DAV and, I know, to this committee.
In fulfilling its important mission, the VA has over the years developed a nationwide network of health care facilities that defies parison. Beyond doubt, our VA medical system is a national resource of which we can be proud; a resource which stands ready to serve the needs of America's 29 million living veterans and their families.
Recognizing this, we are truly grateful that this committee has placed itself in the vanguard of those who maintain that the VA medical care system must never be merged with or become subservient to any other Federal agency or program.
The VA medical program is a fundamental component of our Federal benefits system. Impair its integrity and you will see the beginnings of an erosion process that could eventually include all veterans programs.
Therefore, in the area of veterans medical care, Mr. Chairman, my first and foremost request of this committee is that you continue to do all that you can to keep America's VA hospitals for America's serviceconnected disabled veterans.
In addition to this primary concern, our Florida convention approved a number of resolutions calling for improvement in veterans health care services. Several of these are, I feel, paramount in nature and I am happy to note that some have been incorporated in legislation presently pending in the Congress.
In an effort to provide adequate salaries for VA medical personnel, the DAV strongly supported the Physicians and Dentists Pay Comparability Act of 1975. The special and incentive pay authorized by this legislation has been an invaluable aid to the VA in the recruitment and retention of highly qualified physicians and dentists.
However, the authority of the Vå to offer these monetary incentives will expire on September 30, 1976. We, therefore, urge that the time limitations of Public Law 94-123 be extended until such time as the crucial problems can be resolved.
Another major legislative objective of the DAV is to achieve a priority in outpatient treatment for service-connected disabled veterans in our VA hospitals.
Quite frankly, we find that priority treatment for these veteransthe original beneficiaries for whom the system was created—is not uniformly applied in all VA hospitals. We, therefore, urge your positive action on legislation that would require the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs to prescribe regulations to ensure that the highest priority for outpatient treatment shall be accorded to veterans with service-connected disabilities.
In keeping with our desire to see the VA hospital system direct its attention and resource to the service-connected veteran, we also request the enactment of legislation that would provide complete medical services for any veteran with a service-connected disability of 50 percent
Finally, Mr. Chairman, we propose an increase in VA allowances paid to veterans as reimbursement for authorized travel expenses and to private and State nursing homes for veterans care.
In the case of travel allowances to and from VA facilities, the current stipend of 8 cents per mile is totally unrealistic and inadequate. We support a figure of 15 cents per mile which is equal to that now paid Government employees traveling on official business.
Similarly, the present VA payments for nursing home care are so low
they discourage the acceptance of severely incapacitated veteran patients by these facilities. If the nursing care program is to fulfill its mission, these VA payments must become competitive and are therefore in need of an upward adjustment.
We have two national convention mandates calling for improvement in VA educational benefits.
The first concerns vocational rehabilitation benefits for veterans in need of training due to a service incurred disability.
On June 30, 1975, these benefits terminated for all disabled veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict-many of whom were in training at the time. In our opinion, termination of this training for seriously disabled veterans is counterproductive to the basic philosophy of the program. We therefore urge enactment of legislation which would repeal the June 30, 1975 termination date and give the VA Administrator discretionary authority to extend entitlement for such periods as he deems appropriate.