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STATEMENT OF HON. JOE D. WAGGONNER, JR., A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
Mr. WAGGONNER. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, may I begin my remarks by expressing my appreciation to you for allowing me to appear before you today. I take pride in the fact that I have supported every piece of major legislation favorably reported out by your committee since I came to Congress. You have my utmost admiration and support.
It is with a sense of duty and responsibility that I come before you today to speak out for the young men of this county who have placed us in their debt by giving their lives and their service to our Nation in Vietnam. And there will be more to follow these men as this conflict continues to become one of our major wars of all time. More than 7,500 of our sons have given their lives on the Vietnam battlefields and some 44,000 have suffered wounds in combat. This, unmistakably, , ranks this far-off conflict as a major American war.
For the ones who have died, we must remember their families, and to those who will forever bear the scars of this war, we must remove the inequities in our treatment of them as veterans. I humbly urge your committee to endorse legislation to right this wrong. In the same breath I hasten to continue my complete support of our veterans of past wars. For them, I heartily support legislation to provide pension increases, particularly in the face of the constant cost-of-living increase. I have introduced legislation for both purposes for which I speak here today, but I do not come to you in support of my bills only, but with confidence in your committee to report the type of legislation needed for the best interest of our veterans.
Mr. DORN. Thank you very much, Mr. Waggonner. We will now hear from our good friend, the former national commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, our colleague from Indiana, Congressman Roudebush. Richard, you go right ahead.
STATEMENT OF HON. RICHARD L. ROUDEBUSH, A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF INDIANA
Mr. ROUDEBUSH. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am happy that you have seen fit to hold hearings on two of my proposals involving veterans' pension legislation.
The bills I am appearing on today are H.R. 1202 and H.R. 1210.
The first I would like to discuss is H.R. 1210. This bill affects only a limited number of veterans, but it will permit some old soldiers to receive some benefits which will help them in their senior years.
This bill amends section 501 of title 38, United States Code, providing that military service on the Mexican border prior to World War I by persons who had additional service in World War I shall be considered wartime service in determining eligibility for pension of the veteran, his widow, and/or his children.
In many cases, soldiers who served on the Mexican border later served in World War I. In view of the fact that the service during World War I may have been of limited duration, due either to age or disability, the requirement of 90 days' service in time of war was not met. This bill merely provides that the service on the Mexican border and during World War I can be combined, and thereby provide eligibility for penson for the veteran and/or his dependents.
I think this bill should have long ago become a law. Service on the Mexican border was pursuant to the calls by the President on May 9, 1916, and June 18, 1916. The rigors of service on the Mexican border were often much more severe than those in World War I.
The second bill is H.R. 1202. This bill also deals with our World War I veterans.
It amends section 503(6) of title 38, United States Code, and provides that all payments to an individual veteran accruing from public or private retirements, annuities, endowments, or similar plans and programs shall not be counted as income in determining the rate paid a veteran for nonservice disability.
This amendment would resolve the tremendous controversy which has surrounded payments of pensions for nonservice disability. It seems very unfair to me that these types of income, paid for in part or whole by the veteran, should be regarded as income.
This bill is supported very strongly by the Veterans of World War I, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and others.
These veterans are interested in this legislation. Since I introduced this bill on the first day of the 90th Congress I have probably got as much mail for this legislation as I have received on any other subject.
I hope this committee will see fit to act favorably on this proposal.
Again, I want to thank the committee for its courtesy, attention, and the opportunity to appear here and discuss this important legislation. And for many of our boys who served us in World War I, this, believe me, is the most important legislation being introduced in the 90th Congress.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Dick. We will now hear our good friend Bob Dole, our colleague from the great State of Kansas. Bob, you go right ahead.
STATEMENT OF HON. BOB DOLE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS
FROM THE STATE OF KANSAS Mr. DOLE. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I appreciate this opportunity to present my views on legislation I have introduced relating to veterans' pensions. My initial comments are directed to H.R. 500, introduced on January 10, 1967, and H.R. 3952, introduced on January 26, 1967.
H.R. 500 provides that where the entitlement of a veteran, widow, or child to a pension from the Veterans Administration is based upon the veteran having served in World War I, the beneficiary shall, if otherwise eligible, have the right to elect payment of pension under either the provision of title 38, as in effect on June 30, 1960, or as amended by the Veterans' Pension Act of 1959, whichever provides the greater benefit.
H.R. 3952 would amend the United States Code, in order to increase by 20 percent the income limitations imposed by chapter 15 of title 38 on persons entitled to pensions thereunder.
Approximately 80 bills relating in some way to nonservice pensions have been introduced and referred to your committee. This is certainly a clear indication of the sentiment in Congress that something should be done in this area.
The average age of veterans of World War I is above 70 years, and their ranks are diminishing rapidly. Hundreds of these veterans are almost entirely dependent on this income for a living. Everyone is aware of the effects of the cruel hand of inflation on the living of those on a limited fixed income. Veterans pensions have enjoyed no immunity from the increase in living costs, which unfortunately threaten to go even higher.
My reason for introducing H.R. 500 is that many veterans of World War I who had not reached the age of 65 on July 1, 1960, were arbitrarily forced to accept the provisions of Public Law 86–211. Under these circumstances, such veterans whose spouses passed away would have their pensions reduced considerably. Many World War veterans feel the younger group should have the right to elect to receive benefits under whichever law would give them the higher benefits or be of the most advantage.
My objective in introducing H.R. 3952 is to rectify an injustice affecting approximately 29,000 veterans whose pensions have been reduced as a result of the modest social security increase voted by the 89th Congress.
Mr. Chairman, in most instances, these veterans received a social security annuity which placed them slightly under one of the income limits established by law for entitlement to a certain rate of pension. When the social security increase, though slight, was approved, it was sufficient to put the veteran in a higher income bracket, thus reducing or terminating his payments. Though the amount varied with the individual case, I understand that each of the more than 29,000 veterans concerned lost considerably more in pension than he gained in social security. In a typical case coming to my attention, the veteran received a monthly increase of $8 in social security, while losing $48 in veterans pension benefits.
The administration's proposal to increase substantially the monthly social security payments makes it imperative that action be taken to offset the adverse effect such an increase would presently have on veterans pension benefits. H.R. 3952 would permit a modest increase in income without affecting pension entitlement. It would do this by increasing by 20 percent the income limitations for each category in chapter 15 of title 38, United States Code relating to persons entitled to pensions thereunder.
Arguments are made that during the 88th Congress a 10-percent retirement income exclusion for pension purposes was authorized and that the pensioner is receiving more in pension than he did in 1964. Nonetheless, the fact remains that pension payments for 1966 were substantially reduced from the rate received in 1965.
In addition, these veterans and their dependents, and for that matter all Americans, watch helplessly as the dollar value continues to erode. Pensioners and others on limited fixed incomes have been particularly injured by the rising cost of life's necessities. These persons, in particular, are the victims of spending policies of this administration, resulting inflation has been given as the basis for requested wage increases for Federal employees as well as for persons employed in private industry. In the case of Federal workers, Congress has recognized the need for cost-of-living adjustments and passed legislation from time to time to compensate for the rising costs of living. Congress, therefore, cannot in good conscience delay action on bills relating to liberalization of veterans pensions.
As a disabled veteran, having served as service officer for the American Legion and VfW for a number of years, I believe our primary obligation is to assist the low-income veteran, the seriously disabled, and widows and children of deceased veterans.
I wish to express my hope the committee will seriously consider H.R. 3309 introduced by Congressman Haley, a member of this committee. I know of a number of veterans in my district, and other parts of Kansas, who have been denied pension benefits because of requirements that certain payments, from various sources, be considered as income under section 521, title 38, United States Code. H.R. 3309 would amend section 521 of the United States Code to exclude from income consideration of all payment from any source when a veteran reaches age 72.
If the committee feels H.R. 3309 goes too far, then at least Mr. Haley's suggestion could be used as a basis for revising present laws, therefore reducing discrimination against countless veterans. I would agree that benefits should be made available primarily to those in need but at the same time Congress should not penalize those veterans who, because of accident or design, may have accumulated a reasonable amount of property, or who may receive certain retirement or annuity payments, or other income, because of prior employment. With all the emphasis these days on improving standards of living in the country, and around the world, it would seem to me that our veterans of past wars should be given first consideration. It seems reasonable that income should not be a factor in determining pension eligibility after
age 72 in the same manner, as income is not a factor in social security after age 72. I am not suggesting pension benefits be made available to so-called wealthy veterans, but am insisting that Congress adopt a more realistic attitude in determining eligibility.
It has always been, and still is, my contention that any veterans pension program should confer benefits on the aged, needy veterans, their widows, and children of deceased veterans. The problem in the past, and the present problem, appears to be interpretation of the word “needy,” which should perhaps be changed to "deserving" to avoid the interpretation that to be eligible a veteran must be living in poverty. Specifically, I would urge and recommend that any bill reported by your committee include the following:
1. An increase in certain income limits and pension rates for veterans and widows.
2. Elimination of the disability requirement for entitlement to pension at age 65.
3. Serious consideration given to reducing the 90-day service requirement; and
4. Elimination of all payments from any source as income when veteran reaches age 72. Mr. Chairman, in my opinion, the least the committee should do is report on a bill similar to H.R. 17488 of the 39th Congress which was reported unanimously by this committee, passed the House with only two dissenting votes, and died in the Senate. In closing, I wish to express the hope that the committee will take action to bring about these long overdue adjustments. Thank you.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Congressman Dole. We will now hear from one of our esteemed colleagues on the Veterans Affairs Committee and the new chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee of the House, Congressman Dulski. Thad, the subcommittee will be very happy to hear from you, and you may proceed as you wish.
STATEMENT OF HON. THADDEUS J. DULSKI, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Mr. Dulski. Thank you very much, Mr. Dorn.
Mr. Chairman I wish to thank you and the members of this subcommittee for including in the hearings you are now holding on the non-service-connected pension program, H.R. 3754, a bill I have introduced to provide for increases in the income limitations for the payment of non-service-connected pensions under the new pension program.
Under the provisions of my bill, the maximum income limitation for veterans and widows without dependents receiving benefits under the new pension program is increased from $1,800 to $2,000. It also increases the $1,200 bracket to $1,400 and the $600 minimum bracket to $800. For veterans and widows with dependents, H.R. 3754 would increase the maximum income limitation to $3,300 and it further provides for the present $2,000 bracket limitation to be increased to $2,300 and the minimum bracket of $1,000 to be increased to $1,200. This bill also increases from $1,800 to $2,000 the income limitation for a minor child to receive benefits.
Last year, Mr. Chairman, after holding extensive hearings, your subcommittee reported a non-service-connected pension bill, H.R. 17488, which contained many outstanding features and I commend you for this action. I am pleased to state that as a member of the Committee on Veteran's Affairs I supported H.R. 17488 last year when it was considered by the full committee and also when it was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives.
H.R. 17488 as passed by the House of Representatives last year contained the following provisions :
Increase in all new law pension rates;
Increased to $70 a month pension rates for widows of the Spanish-American War and prior wars who were receiving $65 monthly;
Created an additional special allowance of $50 for widows of all wars who are in need of regular aid and attendance of another person or who are patients in nursing homes;
Liberalize the marriage requirement for a widow of a veteran to receive pension by reducing the marriage requirement from 5 years to 1 year and would clarify the provision relating to a child born to the parties to the marriage;