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Commander WANAMAKER. Now that is something that comes up in the social security laws, and I am a little shaky on this, so I may not be exactly accurate. I will give you my best impression.
Beginning in 1982—it is already wiped out for men, incidentally-a woman cannot draw a spouse's benefit if they are in receipt of another Government retirement annuity. They extended the year, for 5 years, after that law in 1977 was passed, that women can draw that spouse's benefit in order for a woman to be able to work her way out of something she may have committed herself to under prior laws.
But in 1982 the woman, drawing a spouse's benefit and who has been a Federal employee will also, according to current law, have that reduced or eliminated.
Now I may be a little shaky on that, but that is my impression. Mr. WYLIE. I think you have it focused pretty much.
I listened and understand what you are saying in your paper here. Do you have any cost figures or any estimates as to what this would cost, what you recommend? I don't know if there is any way of getting at it.
Commander WANAMAKER. I don't have the facilities, so that is one of the reasons, Mr. Wylie, why I recommended to task the Veterans' Admnistration to come up with some of these studies, because I feel that they are needed so we can get a handle on them. I really don't know.
Mr. WYLIE. But it would be considerable, though.
Commander WANAMAKER. Oh, yes, sir. I am pretty sure it would be.
Mr. WYLIE. Thank you.
Now we will have Mr. Paul Egan, assistant director, National Legislative Commission, accompanied by Mr. Robert E. Lyngh, director of National Veterans' Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission.
Welcome, gentlemen. STATEMENT OF ROBERT E. LYNGH, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VET
ERANS' AFFAIRS AND REHABILITATION COMMISSION, ACCOMPANIED BY PAUL S. EGAN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION, THE AMERICAN LEGION
Mr. EGAN. Mr. Chairman, I am Paul Egan, assistant director of the National Legislative Commission. Our witness this morning is Bob Lyngh who is, as you said, the director of our rehab division and he will summarize our statement and we ask that the full text be included in the record.
Mr. Hall. Without objection, it will be so ordered. 1
Mr. LYNGH. Mr. Chairman, before I proceed into the summarization of the prepared statement I would like to, if I might, on behalf of the American Legion offer a brief comment on the dialog that took place between the Chair and the previous witness with reference to the average economic loss experienced by those who incur service-connected disabilities and say on behalf of our organization that one of the factors that enters into the formula for assigning
See p. 59.
disability compensation is that the Government, and certainly with the support of the American Legion, basically equates the value of service of the private and the general, our feeling being that in time of war, or national emergency, the individual citizen when called into service contributes what he can.
And in our view if the private and the general both lose a leg in service the leg of the private is as valuable to him as is the leg of the general to himself.
So while that is not the only basis upon which the formula is developed it is one of the important bases, and any deviation from that could at least raise the possibility of beginning to evaluate the quality and the value of service based upon the individual's rank or the assignment that he might have on a duty basis while in active service, and we think that would not be the egalitarian approach that has prevailed in the Government's consideration of this very important matter.
With the Chair's permission I will proceed to my prepared statement.
The American Legion appreciates the opportunity to appear this morning.
It is our understanding the subcommittee is considering the possible effects of further budget cuts on the operations of the Department of Veterans' Benefits of the VA, the effect of delays in filling key staff positions in DVB, timeliness of implementation of new legislation and analysis of review of unemployability cases.
The American Legion seizes this opportunity to protest once again in a congressional forum the continuing efforts of the Office of Management and Budget to curtail funding for the operations of the Veterans' Administration.
In the budgetary dispositions that were made by the new administration in the spring of this year the American Legion supported what became known as the Gramm-Latta resolution or the Reagan bipartisan budget.
In that allocation of funds for activities of the Federal Government veterans programs were slated to lose something in the neighborhood of $110 million. This was down from the $840 million that OMB proposed in March to take from veteran programs. That $110 million was the approximate amount lost to veterans programs in the Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 that went to the President for signature.
As a matter of fact veterans lost one benefit in the Reconciliation Act, the burial benefit, to which loss the American Legion strongly objected and which we will petition Congress to restore because we believe it is a benefit earned and deserved by veterans who have honorably served the Nation.
The Department of Veterans' Benefits maintains a staff of some 16,000 in the 58 regional offices. These personnel have provided a level of service that, while not as prompt and efficient as we would like to have it, nevertheless has been able to dispose of applications for benefits within a generally reasonable time frame.
We find ourselves now confronted by a new crisis. Following enactment of the Budget and Reconciliation Act the fact is there has been no appropriation act for VA for fiscal year 1982. Therefore, VA today, as is also true of other departments and agencies of Government, is operating on a continuing resolution that extends to November 20.
What has happened is that OMB has instructed VA to spend at 14 percent below the level agreed to in the Reconciliation Act, the level projected by the administration following the President's most recent budgetary adjustments of September. In the case of VA these September figures reverted to the figures allocated to VA by OMB in March of this year.
What we have here are severe restrictions on the level of spending for the new fiscal year, imposed by OMB without congressional mandate. We do not see how this action can fail to impact stringently on every activity of the entire VA.
Under these current instructions from OMB, if they are maintained, DVB stands to lose as many as 2,373 personnel during fiscal year 1982. This would be more than 10 percent of its total work force. Should that happen there is no way DVB can maintain the present standard of service to its clientele.
It is our belief that the administration has exceeded the congressional mandate in this matter of early funding for fiscal year 1982. The continuing resolution made clear that funding was to be at the level of the compromise agreement between the Houses on the appropriations measure, H. Ř. 4034.
That is not how OMB has instructed departments and agencies to proceed.
In the view of the American Legion what is going on here is impoundment, an executive activity that Congress took note of some years ago with passage of the Budget Control and Impoundment Act.
The American Legion does believe and recommends to the subcommittee that in fact Congress should call the administration to account for failing to adhere to the legislative requirements of the continuing resolution under which the executive branch is now operating
It is our hope the subcommittee will intensively pursue this entire matter of manpower levels in DVB before allowing any substantial reductions to be accomplished.
Concerning the matter of delays in assigning personnel to key staff positions we believe, of course, that key staff positions at the Central Office level should be regularly filled to assure Central Office policy support for the field.
We assume some delays that have occurred recently may be the result of the extended transition the agency has experienced. The new management team is now installed and functioning. We note the senior positions in DVB are now filled. Should any further vacancies develop we will expect them to be filled with reasonable promptness.
Concerning implementation of new legislation we note, again without surprise, that the agency's record is mixed. We expect and usually experience prompt action in implementing delivery of new and adjusted benefits.
Implementation of more complex legislation affecting benefits can be delayed, resulting often from the difficulty of drafting regulations which require coordination with more than one element within the agency.
In this regard it can only be said that no bureaucracy is noted for speed of action. Our concern, to repeat, is in delivery of new and adjusted benefits. We do believe DVB makes a good-faith effort in that regard.
The subcommittee is also concerned at this time with the code 18 review. This review involves those service-connected cases in which the claimant is rated totally disabled by reason of individual unemployability on an extraschedular basis.
This review was instituted about 1 year ago and we understand it was from an expressed desire of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
At the outset The American Legion was apprehensive that rating boards would interpret the review order as one to eliminate individual unemployability ratings. Our service officers were alerted to study thoroughly each case where the Legion is the designated representative and to intervene where necessary on behalf of the claimant.
We believe experience to date with the review has proved to be a vindication of rating board action generally within DVB.
We have not received an excessively large number of cases from our service officers protesting action by rating boards, other than utilization of the appellate procedure.
Our conclusion, therefore, at this point is that the review is being conducted in a generally responsible manner and that it has not turned, as we were apprehensive, into a witch hunt.
If the review continues and if we detect a generalized effort to reduce ratings, especially of severely disabled neuropsychiatric cases, we shall make appropriate representations to the agency and if necessary we shall petition the Congress through this committee.
Mr. Chairman, we appreciate this opportunity.
We are always happy to have the view of the Legion. You have been very helpful to this subcommittee and to the full committee, and we are going to make every effort to see that you have adequate funds, that some of the things you are concerned about with OMB does not happen.
Mr. LYNGH. We appreciate that, sir.
Mr. Hall. Mr. Wylie, the gentleman from Ohio, will be recognized.
Mr. WYLIE. Thank you very much, Mr. Lyngh.
Were you here when I asked Miss Starbuck about your statement which appears on page 4 that the VA stands to lose 2,373 jobs this fiscal year?
Mr. LYNGH. Yes, I was, sir.
If I might just extend on your question, which was certainly a most appropriate one; as we understand the situation in the executive branch what is ongoing now are negotiations between the Office of Management and Budget and the various departments and agencies of Government, which would include the Veterans' Administration.
We do believe that instructions were in fact issued from OMB to the Veterans' Administration to restructure their budget projec
tions back to the March figures. Had that occurred, or should it occur, and we have seen nothing in writing to assure that it won't occur, the Department of Veterans' Benefits could experience a rather substantial loss in personnel.
We understand that the negotiations at this point seem to look favorable to a maintenance of the personnel level in DVB, but we don't think the cause for apprehension is totally eliminated because these negotiations, as we understand it, definitely are not complete, and there has been no final commitment by the Office of Management and Budget with reference to the budgetary projections for the agency.
Mr. WYLIE. Well, I must say that I thought Miss Starbuck addressed it when she said that there had been some negotiations and that they apparently decided not to press for the March figure, and in the continuing resolution I must say that that is an indication that there might be some attrition over the period of the next, fiscal year 1982, but I think Miss Starbuck indicated that she thought the actual loss in personnel would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 300, which is considerably less, of course, than 2,373.
And I would suppose that that probably wouldn't be a figure that couldn't be accomplished.
Anyhow, I think it is fine for you to bring up the subject and to make the point and know that this subcommittee, as our chairman has suggested, will maintain oversight.
Mr. LYNGH. Well, if I might offer a final comment on this subject, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Wylie, of course the American Legion was disappointed because, when these reprojections were requested, because we had believed that the administration at the time the Gramm-Latta resolution was put forward and approved by Congress and this organization, among many others, did support it, we believed there was an understanding at that time that the figures in the Reconciliation Act that went to the President in August would prevail and would be the figures provided for the agency for fiscal year 1982.
A late decision, and we understand the problems that the Government is facing with reference to the provision of funds for the whole government at this time. However, you know nothing, certainly, has a higher priority than funding for veterans' programs.
And some of these projections dating back to the March figures, were they accomplished, in violation of what we had understood was an agreement by the Administration, could be devastating to the delivery of benefits to veterans, all of whom are poor, and many of whom are severely disabled, which this committee well knows.
So it is a very serious matter, and weMr. WYLIE. I have some confusion in my mind over it. Where do you get the idea that the administration has now gone back to the so-called March figures?
Mr. Lyngh. The administration hasn't definitively gone back to the March figures. What the administration did do, was ask the agency to recompute its budgetary predictions for fiscal year 1982, based on the original March figure, the President's March figures.