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twilight years, and are unable to meet their obligations with the dignity and peace that they should have.
I want to congratulate our colleague on a very fine statement.
It was my good fortune to be on the so-called junket out to the Far East, last year, and as a result of that trip, the gentlemen and Congresswoman from Hawaii have already passed one bill through the House, and we were happy to have it reported from this committee. I expect we will have more before too long.
Mr. DORN. Mr. Fino?
Mr. FINO. I, too, would like to join my colleagues in complimenting my friend from Hawaii on making this wonderful presentation here this morning.
He could not have expressed my feelings and sentiments better than he did here this morning.
I want to congratulate the gentleman. Mr. DORN. Mr. Duncan?
Mr. DUNCAN. I would also join with my colleagues in complimenting you.
I well remember the fine speech you made 2 weeks ago on the floor of the House in honor of the Spanish-American War veterans. It was one of the best I have ever heard.
I have had great concern about these widows, myself. I know many of them are trying to live on $65 or $75 a month.
We held out a little olive branch to them last year, and we did not get it approved until the last 2 or 3 days of the Congress, but that is under the bridge, now.
I think it is one of the finest bills that we could introduce, and pass, in the House.
They, and also the older veterans, may not have much political weight, but it is from the humanitarian standpoint that these SpanishAmerican War veterans are trying to live on $65 or a little more each month, and it is very difficult.
So I want to commend you, and I assure you that I will wholeheartedly support this bill.
Mr. MATSUNAGA. Thank you, Mr. Duncan.
I might point out that there are only seven Spanish-American War veterans in Hawaii, and 44 widows and surviving dependents, but then I felt that nationwide there are still 55,443, and these are the ones who are really in need, and ought to be provided for.
Mr. DoRN. Mr. Hanley, I want to say this to you. This is the reason I saved you, as a sort of climax, here: You are the only one who seems to be able to get bills through the House and signed by the President.
Mr. HANLEY, Only because I have such a wonderful Chairman.
I, too, want to commend my very close friend, the gentleman from Hawaii, for his very fine statement, and for his interest in this most noble cause, and the plight of the widows and dependents of the veteran.
This is an example of the very effective role Spark plays in the Congress.
As he has pointed out, this particular piece of legislation does not necessarily affect a great number of his constituents. I think he has mentioned only about seven veterans. But he has the national interest at heart, again, which simply typifies the type of individual he is.
So I commend you, Spark, and I concur with your philosophy, and you can be assured of my support.
Mr. MATSUNAGA. Thank you, Mr. Hanley.
Mr. Dorn. I will add my thanks, too, Mr. Matsunaga, and will say that I think it is particularly significant that you would come before us representing the great State of Hawaii to typify and add some significance to that era of American history, when this country was projected into the international field, after the Spanish-American War.
If you have any further observations, we would be delighted.
Mr. MATSUNAGA. I simply would like to add that I wish this entire program could appear on TV, for home consumption.
Mr. DORN. We will go along with you on that. If there is no objection, your statement on your bill, H.R. 4887, will be printed as though read.
Mr. MATSUNAGA. Thank you very much.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 2068, a bill introduced by the distinguished chairman of this subcommittee, and a companion bill H.R. 4887, which I introduced. It is always a pleasure to appear before this subcommittee which does such a fine job in providing for the welfare of our veterans and their families.
As you all are aware, the provision of pensions for veterans in recognition of the service which they have rendered their country, and the hardships they have suffered thereby, is a firmly rooted tradition in American history. The first national pension law was passed by the Continental Congress in 1776, nearly 200 years ago. In the ensuing two centuries, benefit programs have been broadened and expanded to keep pace with the ever-growing needs of veterans in readjusting to a way of life which has passed them by in the interim. Today veterans' benefits cover a wide range of services; health and medical benefits, pensions and compensation, housing and educational loans, insurance, and vocational rehabilitation for those in need of it are but several facets of the complex system which a grateful Nation has created to benefit those who served her.
But complexity does not necessarily denote strength. Despite the broad range of benefits which are available to the veteran today, the program has several grave weaknesses. It is weak because it does not fully meet the needs of those it purports to serve. Can we truly claim we are serving the veteran to whom we offer a pension including the minimum social security benefit of $35 monthly, of less than $1,500 per year? Even government's most miserly statisticians regard that as poverty level income. Can we truly claim we are serving the veteran who is eligible for only peacetime compensation rates, although he must endure the horrors and atrocities of war? Is it just to deny a defender of our freedoms the pension which would ease the financial burdens thrust upon him by his sacrifices? The answers are obviously
"No." Yet these and other deficiencies exist in our benefit system today.
It is in this context, Mr. Chairman, that I urge passage of my bill H.R. 4887. Its provisions would do much to correct the weaknesses which I have mentioned; it would offer increased pension benefits, adjusted to keep pace with the cost of living; it would liberalize somewhat the eligibility rules for these benefits, and finally, it would provide for those serving today benefits commensurate with the hazards they face, benefits equal to those given their comrades of World War I, World War II, and the Korean conflict. It is a small enough sacrifice for the far greater sacrifices which they have made for us.
An increase in pension benefits today is of prime importance. Since January 1965, when the last increase was made, the cost of living has increased 5.3 percent. The provisions contained in my bill, if enacted, would help veterans to live on their pensions in dignity and comfort despite the rise in cost of goods and services. It would provide an overall average 5.4 percent increase for all those on the pension rolls, with correspondingly higher increases for those at the lowest levels of benefits. We are all aware how difficult it is to keep up with the rising cost of living, but for those on a fixed income, the problem is far more difficult if not impossible. These people need our aid in the form of higher pensions. We can also increase pensions by liberalizing the eligibility standards required for certain benefits. Many of these standards no longer serve a useful function; the needs they were created to serve have long since been eliminated, and today they only make more difficult the burden of those whose load has been too heavy for too long. Other standards are weak because we have failed to modernize them to keep pace with the growing needs of an aging veteran populations. For these reasons, I support wholeheartedly measures designed to simplify these rules in accordance with the Veterans' Administration policy of continually revising and improving the system in order to serve the veterans and their dependents and their widows more effectively. These changes would: (1) reduce the 5year alternative marriage requirement for widows to 1 year (or any amount of time if there is a child born of the marriage) ; (2) provide an aid and attendance allowance for all widows; (3) presume permanent and total disability for pension purposes at age 65 and presum need for aid and attendance if the veteran is in a nursing home; (4) provide for the exclusion from income for pension purposes of amounts equal to the amounts paid by a wife for the last illness of the veteran prior to his death or the amounts paid by a wife or widow for the last illness and burial of the veteran's child.
One of the important provisions of this bill which was passed by the House last year is the creation of a special "housebound” rate of $100 per month for veterans under the old pension law. The Senate committee which held hearings on the bill passed by this House deleted the provision because, “It was of the opinion that this liberalization of the old pension program would be inconsistent with the stated intent of Congress that the old pension program should be ultimately phased out and replaced by the current pension program (Public Law 86-211)." While I am wholly in sympathy with the new pension program, which is by all measures a more equitable program, and the laudable desire of the Senate committee to see it become our sole pension program, I feel that it is markedly unfair to cause a few individuals to suffer because they made a free choice to continue under the old pension law which was more advantageous to them personally. Their needs are clear and pressing; their loyalty and devotion to their country is unquestionable, and they have served her well. Can we now turn our backs upon them in their time of need?
Another major purpose of the bill I am supporting is to equalize the benefits available to veterans of service since January 31, 1955. At present they are denied the pension, compensation, and medical-health benefits which this Nation has traditionally bestowed upon those who have served her in time of war. It is both within our power, and our duty, to see that those who have defended their country with supreme disregard of the sacrifices which might be asked of them, be compensated insofar as it is within our abilities to do so. The sacrifice made by our soldiers today is no less than that made by soldiers of World War I, World War II, or the Korean conflict. Their widows do not suffer a grief less poignant. Their children are deprived of the presence of a father in the same way as orphans of other wars. Hoy then, can we presume to offer these men any less than we have provided for their comrades in arms? I am confident that every Member of the Congress will support this measure, and that the people of this Nation will applaud our action. Passage of the provisions in title II my
bill will provide entitlement to wartime disability compensation to all members of service since January 31, 1955. It will also provide pensions for them and for their widows and for their children. Other benefits extended to these men will be drugs and medicine paid for by the VA if the individual is in need of regular aid and attendance, $1,600 toward the purchase of a specially equipped automobile for a disabled veteran, and a burial allowance of $250.
Mr. Chairman, it is easy in these times to become so dazzled by the vastness and complexity of the society in which we live that we tend to forget about the problems and the contributions of the individual. Yet each single veteran who fought for his country and for us made his own personal contribution to the cause of liberty; each soldier on today's battlefronts suffers his own anguish and fears and dreams his own dreams. We must not forget the individual veteran. For these reasons, I respectfully urge a favorable report on this legislation to better the life of those who have sacrificed for their country.
Mr. DORN. I will now call on Congressman Gray. Mr. Gray, you may proceed.
STATEMENT OF HON. KENNETH J. GRAY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Mr. GRAY. Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee, let me first express my profound gratitude to your committee for scheduling hearings on the important subject of nensions and added benefits for certain veterans, and for the opportunity of appearing before you today in behalf of H.R. 1993, that I introduced on January 11, 1967. H.R. 1993 would amend title 38 of the United States Code to entitle veterans of World War I, and their widows and children, to pension on the same basis of veterans of the Spanish American War and their widows and children. Before I give my reasons for urging approval of this specific legislation, let me first say that I am for added benefits for Vietnam veterans and also increased compensation for service-connected veterans of all wars. However, Mr. Chairman, I want to be perfectly candid when I say that we have shown more neglect, in my opinion, to the veterans of World War I and their widows and dependents, than any other group of veterans in our Nation's history. As you know, the veterans of World War I are dying at a very rapid rate. Many of them are going into the sunset of their lives-living in destitution and without hope. It is my firm and honest belief that we should take action immediately to assist this forgotten group. Many bills have been introduced in prior sessions that would increase pensions for veterans of World War I. It always has been a problem to determine just how much would be a fair and equitable amount. This problem has seemed to preclude the type of consideration this matter deserves. Therefore, in order to simplify a pension bill, I have proposed in H.R. 1993, that we give to veterans of World War I, and their widows and children, the same pension and on the same basis as veterans of the Spanish American War. These amounts, generally speaking, would be $101.59 per month for a World War I veteran or $135.45 monthly if the veteran is in need of regular aid and attendance. These amounts of course, are for veterans who have served 90 days or more.
The legislation I propose would also pay a lesser amount of $67.73 to veterans who have served 70 days or more. Many deserving veterans who are destitute, fall in this category and I believe we should recognize these needy veterans. H.R. 1993 would also pay the widows of veterans of World War I a pension at the monthly rate of $65 per month unless she was the wife of the veteran during his service in the Spanish American War or World War I, in which case the monthly rate would be $75. If there is a child of the veteran, the rate of pension paid to the widow would be increased by $8.13 per month for each such child. Mr. Chairman, these are small amounts indeed compared to the high cost of living today and would barely help meet the necessities of life. It would be an improvement over existing pension laws. I received scores of letters from all over the Un ed States in su ort of H.R. 1993 and will, of course, not expect the committee to receive this correspondence in the record. However, I would like to ask permission to insert one resolution and one letter, from my constituents, that represents a broad area of expression and sentiment on this subject. I realize with the Vietnam conflict requiring large outlays of expenditures, this is a difficult time to pass any type of legislation that requires additional spending. However, let me remind the committee that time is running out for this group of aging veterans, and surely we can find other fields in which to cut expenditures and at the same time allow proper recognition to these deserving veterans, and their widows and children.
Thanks again for allowing me the opportunity of appearing before you this morning.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Mr. Gray. If there are no questions, I will next call on Congressman Waggonner. Mr. Waggonner, you may proceed.