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My name is Francis W. Stover and my title is director of the national legislative service of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Since the subcommittee will not be considering the general provisions of the pension program at this time, my remarks concerning pension bills will be limited accordingly. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, however, is intensely interested in all aspects of the pension program, particularly proposals dealing with increases in the rates and income limitations both under the new and old pension programs. The plague of inflation hits hardest on those who are existing on a fixed pension income. Despite two increases in VA pension payments initiated by this subcommittee in the 90th Congress, veterans are living on less each day as the cost of living has steadily risen.
The delegates to our most recent annual national convention, held in Philadelphia, Pa., representing over 1,500,000 members, addressed themselves to many of the proposals contained in the bills under consideration. Much concern is expressed in these resolutions for the needs and welfare of the survivors of veterans who have made the supreme sacrifice. It will be deeply appreciated if copies of these resolutions will be made a part of my remarks, which reflect the philosophy and recommendations contained in them.
(The information follows:) The Veterans of Foreign Wars, therefore, commends this Subcommittee for holding these hearings at this time, which the V.F.W. feels is a major priority veterans' program needing immediate attention.
Several of the bills before you relate to the elimination of the annual income questionnaire, which is required to be filed year by veterans receiving a VA pension. The V.F.W. has long held that this annual income reporting requirement should be abolished after a two year period. Many of the bills before you would abolish this requirement at age 72. The V.F.W. strongly supports these bills for these reasons. Many veterans as they advance in age find it a most burdensome task to correctly and fully complete the income questionnaire which is mailed to them each year. Where there are VA facilities with contact officers close by, or a veterans service officer is handy, there is no problem. But for most of these older veterans, a personal visit to a VA office or a veterans service officer requires travel and causes undue hardships on many veterans. Rather than make the trip to seek expert assistance, many of these older veterans take it upon themselves to complete the questionnaire. If the questionnaire is not completed correctly, then a suspension of the pension payment occurs. Suspension of the VA pension check causes an additional hardship on the veteran through what he feels is no fault of his own, and causes the veteran great bewilderment and anguish.
It should further be emphasized that the elimination of the reporting requirement at age 72 or older will benefit almost every World War I veteran, who is receiving a pension, whose average age is now close to 75. Most important, the bill is estimated by many to save several million dollars a year in administrative costs.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars, therefore, recommends that the Subcommittee report one of the bills before you in this regard to the full Committee for its favorable consideration and advancement to the full House for consideration and vote.
There are several other bills before you which relate to the exclusion of income, which have long held a high priority so far as the membership of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is concerned. I refer to the several bills introduced by the Chairman of the full Committee, Mr. Teague of Texas, and other members, which would provide that amounts inherited from bank accounts, jointly or separately owned, shall not count as income for death or disability pension or for dependency and indemnity compensation purposes.
This exclusion of income would apply to both the DIC and pension programs, which, in our opinion, it should. Uniformity of the law is a most desirable objective and should be applied across the board to all affected by the exclusion. Therefore, the V.F.W. strongly supports the bills which would eliminate this inequity which has prevailed because of an administrative interpretation by the Veterans Administration, which, oftentimes, is contrary to existing law in the domicile of the veteran or his survivor.
The Vietnam war has revealed a weakness in the dependency and indemnity program as originally conceived back in 1956. Primarily a program for the career military, it has revealed that the computation of the DIC payments does not meet the needs of widows of today.
The major veterans organization to object to the inclusion of rank as a factor in determining the DIC payment when that legislation was under consideration by a Select Committee of the House back in the 1950s was the V.F.W. Our organization believes that there should be no rank in death.
However, because the DIC program was intended to care for the survivors of those who choose the military service for their careers, the question of rank and base pay was built into the formula for determining the DIC payment. In addition, the DIC payment to widows and survivors of men who died while on active duty was to be geared to the active duty pay scales, so that every time there was an increase in the active duty pay scales of the military, the widow would get a cost of living increase in her DIC payment.
What the Congress probably did not contemplate was that not all grades and ranks would receive the same identical corresponding cost of living active duty pay increase as the years went by. Unfortunately, this is not true. The lower grades have fallen way behind with respect to a cost of living increase. Likewise, even some of the higher grades have not received the same pay increases which are reflected in the DIC payments for widows. The V.F.W. strongly supports the proposal to pay a minimum payment of at least $170 a month. More basically, we strongly support legislation to provide an appropriate increase in the DIC rates which will reflect the cost of living increases which have occurred since January 1, 1957.
Another factor-evidence indicates that five-sixths of deaths suffered in Vietnam are in the lower ranking enlisted men. Their widows are not only young, but many have small children to rear. The bringing of the minimum payment up to at least $170 a month will be a giant step toward correcting an unintended oversight when the DIC program was created back in 1956.
To the V.F.W., therefore, another significant factor is involved here. That is that the great majority of those being killed in Vietnam are citizen soldiers. That is why they have little rank and are in the lower enlisted grades. If we are to continue calling upon our citizens to serve in the Armed Forces during times of peril, then it is incumbent upon us to make sure that the widows and survivors of those who are making the supreme sacrifice are being adequately cared for and protected. The authorizing of an adequate minimum payment will be a giant step in this direction.
With respect to the DIC program, the V.F.W. supports the provision that there should be a minimum across-the-board additional $20 a month for each child of the deceased serviceman—with no limit on the number of children involved. This will more adequately take care of those widows who have several children to rear.
In that regard, where there is no widow entitled to receive the DIC payment, the V.F.W. strongly supports the bills which would increase the DIC payments by at least 10% for these orphans.
Another area which has been caused by an unintended oversight is the additional allowance for widows who have become so helpless they need the aid and attendance of another person or are in a nursing home. There are quite a large number of widows who would benefit by such a proposal. Since widows under the pension program are entitled to an additional $50 a month when they meet this requirement, then the widows of service connected decreased veterans should be entitled to receive similar assistance. The V.F.W. supports the proposals before you to provide a $50 additional allowance to widows receiving DIC or death compensation under the old compensation program which existed before 1957, who require regular aid and attendance or are in a nursing home.
The V.F.W. strongly supports the granting of DIC payment to the widow, children, and parents of a veteran who was permanently and totally disabled 20 years or longer from a service connected disability. Only when it was clearly evident that the veteran had died of an accidental cause with no relationship to his disability would the widow be barred from entitlement to DIC.
We are talking about a veteran who was totally disabled for practically all of his adult life. His death, in many instances, is difficult to medically connect with his service connected disability. We all know, however, that the practice of medicine is not an exact science and it is difficult medically to link his death to his permanent and total disability. Providing DIC payments to the survivors of veterans who were permanently and totally disabled for 20 or more years will continue the DIC program as a service related service connected program.
The V.F.W. is extremely hopeful that the dependency and indemnity compensation program will be made more realistic and meaningful to the more than 35,000 widows, whose husbands have been killed in Vietnam.
It is hoped, therefore, that this Subcommittee will favorably consider and recommend bills carrying out the V.F.W. position and that they be given favorable consideration by the Subcommittee and the House and, hopefully, cleared by the Congress in the very near future. Adequate DIC payments for Vietnam widows is a major problem which needs priority attention and must be solved as expeditiously as possible.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this distinguished Subcommittee.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Mr. Stover, for a very excellent statement. The resolutions recently adopted by your great organization at your recent national convention will be included in the record.
Mr. STOVER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That will be appreciated. (The resolutions follow :) Resolutions adopted at the 70th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, held at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 15 through 22, 1969.
RESOLUTION No. 40
DEPENDENCY INDEMNITY COMPENSATION
Whereas, a grateful government has recognized the need and obligation to care financially for the dependents of the members of the Armed Forces who lost their lives in the service of their country or who died of injuries or wounds incurred in service; and
Whereas, the Government of the United States, through the Administrator of Veterans Affairs, will pay Dependency Indemnity Compensation to the surviving dependents of the members of the Armed Forces, who died in service or who died as the result of wounds or injuries received in the service of our country; and
Whereas, in certain cases, the amount of Dependency Indemnity Compensation paid to a widow for the minor children of the veteran is reduced by an amount equal to Social Security Benefits or Railroad Retirement Benefits received: Now, therefore be it
Resolved, by the roth National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, That the amount of Dependency Indemnity Compensation paid under Title 38, USC, for the orphaned children of deceased veterans, shall not be reduced to the reduction or deduction provisions under Section 403 of Title 42, USC, nor under the reduction provisions of Sections 228C or 228E of Title 45, USC.
RESOLUTION No. 42
COMMISSARY PRIVILEGES FOR CERTAIN WIDOWS
Whereas, the Department of Defense has recognized that veterans who are 100% disabled due to service connected disabities, have reduced incomes and has issued “Commissary Privilege Cards” to these discharged veterans, as well as to their wives; and
Whereas, when a discharged veteran rated 100% disabled, due to service con. nected disabilities dies, the income of the widow will be greatly reduced ; and
Whereas, although the widow of a discharged veteran will have to rear her family on a reduced income after his death, the Department of Defense has ruled that she is ineligible to have a “Commissary Privilege Card" and that she will have to surrender the “Commissary Privilege Card” that had been issued to her while her husband was living: Now, therefore be it
Resolved, by the 70th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, That when a discharged veteran and his wife were eliible to have a “Commissary Privilege Card” at the time of his death, his widow will be eligible to have and to retain such a card, after his death, so long as she meets the definition of a widow, as defined by the Department of Defense.
RESOLUTION NO. 41
DIC FOR WIDOWS OF 100 PERCENT SERVICE CONNECTED VETERANS
Whereas, when a veteran, with a service connected disability, dies from a nonservice connected disability, his widow will not be eligible to receive Dependency Indemnity Compensation ; and
Whereas, when a veteran, with a service connected disability, dies from a nonservice connected disability, his widow will be eligible to receive Death Pension Benefits, if she qualities under certain income and corpus of estate limitations; and
Whereas, widows of veterans who had service connected disabilities have sacrificed much, while caring for their disabled husbands and at times were not able to live a normal life and had to rear their families with reduced incomes; and
Whereas, many veterans who were wounded or injured, although much disabled or handicapped, their wounds or injuries were not of a nature to terminate in death, therefore, the cause of death would be determined to be the result of disabilities not related to service : Now, therefore be it
Resolved, by the 70th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, That the widow of a veteran who had a service connected disability or disabilities rated 100 per centum disabling will be eligible to receive Dependency Indemnity Compensation, after his death, from any cause, provided that she meets the qualifications of a widow, as defined by the Veterans Administration.
RESOLUTION No. 88
INCREASED DIC PAYMENTS TO DEPENDENT PARENTS
Whereas, under Section 415 B, C, & D, Title 38, U.S. Code, the annual income rates upon which dependent parents may be paid benefits are on a substandard rate and considered inadequate; and
Whereas, dependent parents of those deceased veterans in many cases are meeting severe financial hardship: Now, therefore be it
Resolved, by the roth National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, That we go on record seeking legislation to increase the income limitations and rates of benefits payable to dependent parents under the above cited sections of Title 38, U.S. Code.
RESOLUTION No. 89
CONSIDERATION FOR DEPENDENT PARENTS WHO LOST MORE THAN ONE SON
Whereas, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States has for a number of years known that parents have lost more than one son during a time of armed conflict; and
Whereas, it has been observed that no extra consideration is given to dependent parents on dependency claims; and
Whereas, it is believed that legislation should be considered on this type of situation: Now, therefore be it
Resolved, by the 70th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, That we go on record seeking legislation that parents losing more than one son in service shall be entitled to benefits if income is under double the income limitations set by law.
Mr. Dorn. Have you any questions, Mr. Montgomery?
Mr. MONTGOMERY. I have no questions, Mr. Chairman. I thought it was a very good statement, and I commend the gentleman for representing such a great organization as the VFW.
Mr. STOVER. I would like to thank you, sir. I would like to have the record show that Mr. Norman Jones did join me at the table.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you. The record will so show,
Mr. DORN. Our next witness will be Mr. Leslie Burghoff of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Mr. Burghoff, will you come up, and if you have anyone with you, please introduce them and then proceed. STATEMENT OF LESLIE P. BURGHOFF, IMMEDIATE PAST PRESI.
DENT, PARALYZED VETERANS OF AMERICA; ACCOMPANIED BY CARLOS RODRIGUEZ, VICE PRESIDENT, AND PETER L LASSEM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, my name is Carlos Rodriguez, vice president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Our president, Mr. Wayne Capson, extends his regrets on not being able to be present for the proceeding himself. However, circumstances beyond his control kept him in his own State of California.
I would like to introduce some members of our organization. Mr. Leslie P. Burghoff, our past president, Mrs. Burghoff, and their son Robert; Mr. and Mrs. Bill Green, our national service director; Mr. Peter L. Lassem, executive director; Mr. Harry Schweikert, administrative assistant, and Mr. John McCollum, treasurer of the national capital chapter.
On behalf of our president, I thank you for giving the Paralyzed Veterans of America this opportunity to make known its views on DIC_benefits, and it is my pleasure to introduce our past president, Mr. Leslie P. Burghoff, who will make the presentation. Thank you.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Mr. Rodriguez. Mr. Burghoff, again we are glad to have you and your associates. You may proceed with your statement.
Mr. BURGHOFF. Mr. Chairman and members of this committee. During my 2-year term as PVA president, I had the privilege of appearing before this committee and the parent committee several times. I am honored to do so again today. The testimony I gave, much of which continues to be an essential part of the aims and purposes of PVA, is vital to the welfare of the spinal cord injured veteran. High on our priority list of goals is the guaranteed eligibility for, and the improvement of, the dependency and indemnity compensation program as administered by the Veterans Administration.
The affliction of paraplegia and quadriplegia is not merely trauma resulting in simple loss of motion and sensation; it creates a vastly changed pathophysiological state including a whole succession of events such as changes in protein and calcium metabolism. Atrophy, scar tissue, decubiti, and organic disfunction continue to increase at a stepped-up rate with the passing years. PVA believes that greater consideration must be given to these medical phenomena—their demands and results—in establishing a widow's eligibility for dependency and indemnity compensation.
There have been many cases, and we submit that one case is too many, whereby a service-connected disabled veteran, who had been rated at maximum disability including the need for aid and attendance, died in a Veterans' Administration hospital, only to have his death determined to be not related to his service-connected condition. This occurred even though he had endured his condition of paraplegia for more than