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STATEMENT OF HON. CHARLES H. PERCY, A U.S. SENATOR FROM
THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Senator PERCY. Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of the committee, I would like to first say to the AMVETS who are here today that I couldn't have four colleagues who are more distinguished and more devoted to veterans' affairs than those who are right here presiding and participating today.
The fact that the Senate has put its permanent stamp of approval on this committee is evidence that we are devoted to the welfare of the veterans of the United States. They will always have a friend in the Congress in this committee.
I am pleased to be here Mr. Chairman.
Tom and I have a few things in common. We both come from the State of Illinois. We both entered the military service exactly 34 years ago. It is hard to realize that we would have been admitted at such young ages. He went in right at the top, as a private in the infantry, and I went right in the top of the Navy as an apprentice seaman in the Air Corps, and we managed to survive. I know the post he holds is a source of pride to us in Illinois, to his wife, La Verne, who is here with him today, to his family, and to all of his distinguished colleagues. He will have the pleasure of introducing his colleagues to you when he testifies.
He, as national commander of the AMVETS, Tom McDonough has served with tremendous distinction. He has served Illinois well and Illinois is very proud of his outstanding record of leadership.
Commander McDonough served in the Second Infantry Division during World War II. He participated in the invasion of Normandy where he was wounded twice.
After leaving the military, he chose a career where he could continue serving others even at great personal risk. He joined the Chicago Police Department; has served with the Department for 31 years. And for the last 12 years, has specialized in the field of traffic safety, training and education.
Commander McDonough was one of the founders 10 years ago of the AMVETS Dodge Drive Excellence program. He has been devoted to the program ever since.
The Commander's record of leadership in the AMVETS is long and impressive. He has been Commander of the Colin Kelley Memorial Post 17, commander of the largest AMVETS’ national district, and commander of the entire department of Illinois.
He has held several national AMVETS posts as well.
Prior to his election as national commander in 1976, he was serving as chairman of the National Traffic Safety Commission.
One look at his family's record of service to veterans tell me why the commander has achieved so much :
He has had to work pretty hard just to keep up with them!
Mrs. La Verne McDonough has been president of her local AMVETS Auxiliary. His daughter, Kathy, was president of the Department of Illinois Junior AMVETS. His sons, Mike and Tom, Jr., have also been active Junior AMVET members. Tom, Jr. is a veteran of the Navy, in which I served during World War II. He served 2 years in Vietnam. Commander McDonough is here today to present the 1977 Legislative Goals of the AMVETS. I understand that the AMVETS National Executive Committee is holding their Spring Conference in Washington right now. I would like to welcome them here and congratulate them on their choice for a national leader.
And now, gentlemen, my distinguished colleagues, I take great pleasure and consider it a great personal honor to present to you a dedicated leader and a distinguished American. Commander Tom J. McDonough, after leaving military service, where he helped preserve the future of this country, has devoted a good part of his life to saving lives here at home by stopping the slaughter on the highways. And when we consider that there have probably been more lives lost on our highways than in all of our wars, we can readily appreciate the tremendous challenge the Commander has faced throughout his life in trying to preserve American lives.
Sir, it is a great honor to be with you.
STATEMENT OF THOMAS J. McDONOUGH, NATIONAL
COMMANDER OF AMVETS
Mr. McDonough. Thank you very much, Senator Percy.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, before I get into my testimony I would like to introduce my colleagues at the head table. And starting on my right is my Legislative Director, C. Dennis McClure; immediately to my right is our National Executive Director, Mr. Leon Sanchez; and to my left is the past national commander and an advisor to the AMVET'S on our programs and policies, Mr. A. Leo Anderson.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, to be accorded the privilege of appearing before this committee is a singular honor in and of itself. In my capacity as the leader of a major veterans' organization, I am extremely proud in the knowledge that you recognize AMVETS as an inlet to the vast reservoir of matters for your consideration.
In view of this, I wish to express my personal gratitude and the gratitude of the entire membership of AMVETS and its auxiliary to the committee for this and past kindnesses, and our commendations on your fair and realistic approaches to the problems confronting our Nation's veterans and their dependents. The progress made during the 94th Congress illuminates the sound and fair approach taken to the vital matters with which you are concerned.
Since it is not our intent to consume an unreasonable share of your valuable time, our testimony will be as brief as possible, touching on the highlights of our 1977 legislative goals with only a minimal amount of detail necessary to illustrate the important points which follow.
Of foremost consideration by AMVETS is the continuation of top quality medical care for our veterans. The VA's Department of Medicine and Surgery functions admirably in its performance of that mission. Through the VA hospital system, the medical needs of veterans are served by extremely competent and highly trained medical personnel. This specialized service has historically been provided by the Department of Medicine and Surgery. Our organization will relentlessly pursue the continuation of the VA medical system as it currently exists and will strongly oppose any future attempts to encompass it within any other national health care program.
AMVETS commends this committee and the individual efforts of its members and their colleagues for the positive approach taken to H.R. 2735 during the final days of the 94th Congress which resulted in the passage of the Veterans Omnibus Health Care Act of 1976. We are gratified that this action satisfied, to a large degree, the concerns of AMVETS over the expanding needs for VA nursing care beds and the availability of quality care through community-based nursing facilities as expressed in our testimony before this committee in 1976.
In addition to our continued and specific support of the VA medical system as it now exists, we wish to reaffirm our strong opposition to the almost constant attempts to subvert and minimize the authority and mission of the Veterans' Administration as a whole. We shall never relent in our pursuit of the preservation of the Veterans Administration as a separate and independent agency of the Federal Government and the functions, authority and responsibilities with which it is currently charged.
The passage of the Veterans' Disability Compensation and Survivor Benefits Act of 1976 reflects that consideration was given to our 1976 testimony wherein AMVETS requested an increase in VA compensation rates. At that time, we requested also that your committee address the need for an increase in statutory awards for those veterans who are more seriously disabled.
H.R. 14299, which resulted in Public Law 94-433, provided for an 3-percent increase in compensation rates for both of these categories. This also resulted in an 8-percent increase in Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits for surviving spouses and dependent children of deceased veterans when the death of the veteran is caused as a result of a service-connected disability.
We are gratified that this legislation became reality. We believe, however, that this "eleventh hour” legislation was not responsive to the cost-of-living increases experienced prior to the enactment of Public Law 94-433. Therefore, we strongly urge that automatic future increases in compensation and DIC be provided in tempo with cost-ofliving indices.
Prior to the convening of the 95th Congress, AMVETS submitted to this committee our outline of legislative goals and objectives which would be pursuing during 1977. Among these proposals, consideration of amendatory legislation was requested in the area of eligibility for DIC benefits. We restate our request that favorable consideration be given to legislation to amend title 38 of the United States Code, chapter 13, section 410(b), to provide that, a veteran who is totally disabled (100 percent) at the time of death shall be considered to have died of a service-connected disability. This would establish the criteria for eligible survivors to receive DIC and attendant benefits.
We urge further that the current 20-year time period required for the preservation of a total disability, as described in section 110 of title 38 of the United States Code, be reduced to a more realistic period of 10 years. We will support legislation directed to that end with the
provision that frequent reevaluation examinations would not be required, but we would have no objection to the inclusion of marital criteria as a condition for eligibility.
We reaffirm our opposition to any attempts directed to Federal taxation of VA compensation, DIC, pension or other VA monetary benefits. We commend also the instruction given to the Administrator of Veterans Affairs to conduct a thorough study to determine whether DIC benefits should be based on the former military pay grade of the deceased veteran.
AMVETS has long considered such a base to be an inequity in view of the fact that the cost-of-living is no greater for the survivors of a deceased general or flag officer than it is for those of deceased enlisted personnel of the lowest rank.
AMVETS endorses the intent of H.R. 2295 which would provide out-patient dental services and treatment to any veteran who has a service-connected disability rated at 60 percent or more.
AMVETS is in support of legislation which would provide for the exclusion of social security benefits as countable income for VA pension purposes. In full realization, however, of the fact that nonserviceconnected pensions are based on need, we would lend our total support to proposals such as H.R. 904 which if adopted, would exclude any part of social security cost-of-living increase as countable income for calendar years after 1972.
As described in our preliminary statement of legislative goals for 1977, dated November 1, 1976, we bring attention again to our request for consideration to increase the current $1,200 unearned income limitation of a spouse to $2,200 which would equate the cost-of-living increases experienced in the last 4 years.
Among other inequities in the VA pension program as it currently exists, is one provision which has caused AMVETS considerable concern over the years. The rate tables direct that a living veteran with three or more dependents shall receive the maximum pension allowable in accordance with his or her income from other sources. On the other hand, a widow with more than 3 dependents, and the same income level, may receive VA pension at the same rate with additional allowances for each dependent child over three. We question the rationale behind this principle.
AMVETS lauds the action taken by this committee which resulted in the enactment of the Veterans and Survivors Pension Adjustment Act of 1976. (Public Law 94-432). The provision of this law to make permanent an 8-percent increase in pension rates provided for in Public Law 94–169 and due to expire on September 30, 1976, in the absence of additional legislative action, confirms in our opinion the diligence and fairness of your members and their colleagues. We congratulate you also on the additional increase in pension rates, annual income limitations, housebound, and aid and attendance rates and the 25-percent add on in pension rates for eligible veterans 78-years-of-age or older.
We urge your prompt attention to amend title 38, United States Code, section 503(a) (12) to additionally exclude educational benefits under chapter 34 as income for pension purposes.
AMVETS is pleased with the increase in rates and the removal of the undergraduate use restriction as it pertains to 9 additional months of entitlement contained in Public Law 94-502, but we are concerned with the January 1, 1977 cutoff date for educational benefits.
We fear that the elimination of education and training benefits will adversely affect the future recruitment of military personnel. Should a future draft become necessary, we will strongly support the implementation of a GI bill providing for improved benefits and embracing those members of the military who served after January 1, 1977.
AMVETS takes the realistic stand that flight training benefits should be eliminated. Whereas, these benefits are programed to provide funding for an activity which is largely avocation in nature and provides no assurance that the beneficiary will pursue this field of endeavor as a profession or as a means of employment, we hold that the moneys allocated thereto could be best utilized in the direction of sincere vocational rehabilitation, education and training programs.
AMVETS is in agreement with the language of H.R. 240 which would amend title 38 of the United States Code, to include as wartime veterans those persons who served during certain "expeditionary” actions, thus allowing those veterans to receive VA benefits to which they are not presently entitled.
AMVETS is opposed to any attempts to implement judicial review of claims beyond the authority of the Board of Veterans' Appeals. We believe that such review would place an unreasonable additional onus on the already over-burdened judicial system, and would be extremely costly and difficult to administer and would not be in the best interest of the veteran.
We are in strong opposition to any attempts to eliminate or reduce the current allowances provided for the burial of a wartime veteran.
We reiterate our stand against the class burial concept at Arlington National Cemetery, and again irge positive action directed toward the removal of the present restrictions and to allow for the burial of any honorably discharged veteran as long as plot space remains available.
AMVETS restates our recommendation that a national cemetery be established in each State and that Federal funds be provided to the States for this purpose.
An increase in the current maximum VA home loan guarantee entitlement is held to be in order at this time. The maximum entitlement was increased in 1974 from $12,500 to the current $17.500, representing an increase of $5,000. Real estate costs have soared in tempo with all other facets of the cost-of-living index. Lending institutions are hard put to advance loans without sufficient guarantee of repayment in view of the current economic situation. Additionally, many homes purchased under the GI loan programs after World War II and the Korean conflict are in need of repair or improvement. The ending of the Vietnam era pits additional emphasis on the need for suitable veterans' housing. AMVETS believes that these facts lend sufficient substantiation to the need for an increase in GI loan entitlement.
AMVETS is gravely concerned over the high unemployment rate, especially as it pertains to Vietnam era veterans. The current economic crisis has understandably created joblessness in all segments of our population. However, the unemployment ratio of the younger, the