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20 years. I would like to describe a typical situation for you. Because of such an adjudication of death due to non-service-connected cause, the widow of a service-disabled veteran was denied dependency and indemnity compensation.
Totally disregarded were her years of service in assuring his health and well-being away from a Veterans' Administration hospital where he surely would have had to remain at a considerable expense to the Government.
Totally disregarded was his inability to provide for her care after his death in traditional American fashion simply because he could not work to earn sufficient money.
Totally disregarded is her newly acquired situation which precludes her ability to maintain, or even continue to own, her World War II paraplegic veteran's Public Law 702 home so generously made possible by a sympathetic and grateful Nation.
Totally disregarded is the fact that her service connected spinal cord injured husband was unable to provide for her future because he was continually denied life insurance at anywhere near normal premiums due to his tenuous health. Because of the fine medical treatment he received at a Veterans' Administration hospital, he was able to live somewhat longer, and he died of cause or cause adjudicated to be nonservice-connected. Surely his deserving widow should be guaranteed something better.
Mr. Chairman, to provide some security assurance where very little now exists for those veterans who are least able to provide for it themselves, the Paralzed Veterans of America strongly urges the adoption by this committee and the Congress of legislation to provide for a statutory presumption of service-connected death when a service disabled veteran shall have sustained a disability of paraplegia for 20 years with a compensable Veterans Administration rating under paragraphs (o) and (r) of section 314, title 38 of the United States Code. There has been an exhorbitant amount of attention focused during past months on that segment of American society which must exist at or below the poverty level. Mr. Chairman, let me add another group to that segment of our society. A group which suffers in silence. This consists of the wives and children who are left to carry on after the death of a paraplegic or quadriplegic veteran who became so after a service-incurred injury. When such a death occurs, family income is reduced by at least 80 percent. Permit me to illustrate some of the hardships this can cause and protract, as brought to our attention last month.
Mrs. P., whose husband was an Army officer, receives $272 monthly from DIC and $71.00 from social security for a total of $343 monthly. Because she strongly desires to remain in their home, she is faced with a mortage payment of $96.96; a real estate tax of $72.84; a heating bill of $30; fire insurance, $9.35; and water bill of $1 for a total of $210.15. From the balance of $132.85 she pays her telephone bill, her electric bill, maintenance on her home, and, of course, food and clothing. Her main concern was that even though her recent long hospitalization for a broken hip kept her away from the home she loves, the bills for maintaining it were ever present in unfailing regularity.
Mrs. D. works to supplement her DIC_payment of $135. She is a hospital ward worker, and is 45 years old. In her younger days she was a secretary, but she no longer feels competent to work in that capacity. She also wishes to remain in her husband's Public Law 702 home. Her deceased paraplegic husband could never qualify for mortgage insurance; therefore, she must pay $93.73 a month for some years to come for principal, interest and taxes. (As is the case in many States, a real estate tax abatements or exemptions which are provided for the living paraplegic service-connected veterans, die with him.) With $8.76 for the electric bill; $7.50 for telephone; $4.57 for fire insurance; $25 for oil heat; $35 for maintenance; $2 for water; for a total of $176.56, Mrs. D. has exceeded her DIC payment by $41.56. She must still purchase food and clothing, and gasoline for her husband's hand-controlled automobile so that she can get back and forth to work. Mrs. D. is currently out of work because of an infected ankle, and is greatly concerned over her loss of wages and possible loss of her home.
Mrs. J. has eight children. Their wheelchair-bound spinal cord service injured veteran father died in his Public Law 702 home during the Christmas holidays. Mrs. J. was shocked when informed that her DIC payments would be $148 per month. Her monthly expenditures approximate $625. She receives $202 from the Veterans Administration, and $206.40 from social security. That leaves a monthly defiicit of over $150, which is made up by her 17-year-old son who left school to earn it. She is determined to remain in her 702 home which is located in New York City in a neighborhood where the schools are exceptionally fine. It is ironic to note that she was informed that welfare payments (aid to dependent children) could be $520 per month-much higher than DIC, but she would probably have to give up her home to qualify. Surely such choices should not have to be made.
It does not seem at all equitable that the survivors who stood by the veteran during his lifetime, suffering a social and family life greatly restricted because of the severity of the disability of the husband and father, should be required to suffer so much added deprivation after his death. For these reasons, Mr. Chairman, we submit the following recommendations.
That Veterans' Administration regulations be changed to allow the surviving spouse of a veteran who is receiving compensation, to cash the compensation check which was provided for the month in which he died.
That in the event of death of a veteran with spinal cord injury and disease of service-connected origin, his eligible survivors shall receive the veteran's full compensation for 12 months, after which time such benefits shall be made at 50 percent of the basic award.
That a special mortgage insurance plan be provided by the Veterans Administration for those veterans who build specially adapted wheelchair homes, and that these veterans be given the option to acquire such insurance at standard insurance rates.
That in the event of the death of a service-connected veteran with spinal cord injury or disease, his eligible survivors may receive in lieu of the program described above, a lump sum settlement of $50,000.
That the intent of H.R. 10106 be approved to recognize as a legally adopted child any person to whom an interlocutory decree has been given. It is our purpose, however, that the coverage of this bill be extended to assure the rights of the widow and child
concerned when the intent to adopt by the deceased veteran has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.
That the benefits received under the social security programs not be considered in the computation of income for the veteran or for those who survive him.
Mr. Chairman, it is our decided opinion that the benefits now provided by the dependency and indemnity compensation program are woefully inadequate for those widows and children who must carry on after the service-injured paraplegic has died. Most widows are too young to receive social security benefits, or past the age of meaningful employment because of the length of time since they used whatever work skills they had. We sincerely hope that this committee and the Congress in their greater wisdom, judgment, and compassion will adopt measures to improve the well-being of those who stood by the veterans who ultimately after years of suffering--gave the supreme sacrifice.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Mr. Burghoff, for your fine statement and great contribution to our thinking here this morning.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also appreciate the testimony of the past president, and I am familiar with the organization he represents. Maybe one or two questions, Mr. Chairman, will help to clarify a couple of points in my mind.
I think the main point is, the witness has recommendations which I think are worthy. Your main recommendation appears to be that when a veteran is paralyzed from a service-connected cause for 20 or more years, his death should be presumed to be service-connected, regardless of the cause of his death. Is that the thought in your testimony?
Mr. BURGHOFF. That is correct, Mr. Montgomery.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Suppose a man is killed in an automobile, a disabled veteran, because of carelessness on his part. Do you still think the death should be considered service connected?
Mr. BURGHOFF. Of course, each individual case would have to be evaluated, but it has been our experience that there have been many automobile accidents that could have been and were attributed to the service-connected conditions, such as spasms causing a problem, and leg pressing itself on the accelerator pedal, causing the automobile to go out of control. This we believe is certainly service-connected related.
We still recognize there would be authority under the Veterans Administration to make a determination in these cases. We feel the broadest possible interpretation of this legislation should be allowed.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. I note the other provision in your testimony that each case would be surveyed. I thought under your thinking all the veterans who died after 20 years who were disabled would be presumed to be eligible.
Mr. BURGHOFF. It is our opinion there is always an authority to interpret the laws that are made by the Congress. If such a law was passed and the Congress, in its wisdom and judgment, saw fit to pass such a law, in the case of an absolute service-connected death, the death occurring after 20 years, we would be amenable to it.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Mr. Burghoff.
Our next witness is Victor Miller, national commander, Veterans of World War I.
Mr. Miller, we are happy to have you. If you will, introduce your associates.
STATEMENT OF VICTOR MILLER, NATIONAL COMMANDER, VET
ERANS OF WORLD WAR I; ACCOMPANIED BY MICHAEL LOCKER, NATIONAL ADJUTANT; W. ED HUDSON, NATIONAL QUARTERMASTER; AND KATHRYN IVERSON, SECRETARY
Mr. MILLER. Mr. Chairman, with your permission I would like to introduce two of my colleagues here. Our secretary, Mrs. Iverson, and the national adjutant, Michael Locker, and sitting back there is the national quartermaster, Ed Hudson, and also Mr. Iverson, a member of the organization.
I deem it a pleasure to come before you today.
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this subcommittee, we wish to thank you for the privilege of being permitted to appear before you today to express the views of the Veterans of World War I, United States of America, Inc., on the important legislation which you have under consideration.
We veterans of World War I, Mr. Chairman, are most grateful that you have so kindly included H.R. 372 in these hearings. The proposals contained in this bill are most modest, Mr. Chairman, but they are of vital importance to the elderly, seriously disabled veteran; therefore, our organization has made this bill as one of our principal legislative objectives for this year. Before proceeding with our discussion of this bill, Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to express not only my personal appreciation, but also that of our entire membership, to the distinguished chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the Honorable Olin E. Teague, for his kindness in having introduced H.R. 372 on our behalf.
As originally introduced, H.R. 372 contained four principal provisions, but one of these which related to the elimination of the so-called pauper's oath for older veterans to enter a VA hospital was included also in H.R. 693 which your colleagues on the Hospitals Subcommittee so kindly favorably reported and which was subsequently passed by the House of Representatives. We are deeply grateful for your support of that bill.
There is no group in this Nation today more aware and who suffers so much from inflation than the elderly disabled veteran who lives, or more appropriately, endeavors to exist on a small fixed income. We are, therefore, aware of the importance the Congress and the administration place on the "cost factor" of any bill that is under consideration.
We sincerely believe, Mr. Chairman, that H.R. 372 would actually represent a savings to the Government, or at most the cost would be negigible and the benefit it would provide would be tremendous.
I would like to briefly discuss the three important features of H.R. 372 which you now have under consideration and our reasons for urging your favorable consideration of the bill. Under the present law, if a widow of a veteran in receipt of benefits from the Veterans' Administration remarries, she forever loses her entitlement to VA benefits unless her remarriage is terminated by annulment. H.R. 372 proposes that entitlement to widows' benefits shall be restored if the remarriage is terminated by death or appropriate legal action. It is our under standing that all other Federal programs have much more liberal provision than the Veterans Administration in reference to the restoration of benefits to remarried widows whose remarriage has been terminated.
Each person in receipt of a non-service-connected pension as required to complete and file with the Veterans Administration an annual income questionnaire. If the questionnaire is not timely filed, the person's pension is stopped. To many of the elderly and seriously disabled veterans and widows, the completion of this questionniare is an extreme burden. Such elderly and seriously disabled persons need assistance in completing the simplest of forms but often it is not possible for them to travel to a VA office or that of a service officer where such assistance is available; therefore, each year one of two things happens in thousands of cases. The elderly veteran or widow forgets to return the form and their pension is discontinued, or the form is returned not properly completed and much time is spent by the Veterans' Administration in corresponding with the veteran to clarify the income information furnished or not furnished.
Or, in some cases, the elderly person makes an error in completing the form which may result in less benefits being paid than they are actually entitled to receive.
Mr. Chairman, the average age of the World War I veteran is approximately 75. Only about one-half of the living World War I veterans receive a pension and those who do, in addition to their advanced age, for the most part are seriously disabled. Therefore, the person on whose behalf we are speaking is the one whose income is usually static as it would not be possible for him to work and earn additional income. H.R. 372 proposes that a person who has attained the age of 72 and has been in receipt of a non-service-connected pension for 2 years would not be required to complete the annual income questionnaire. A person would still be required to report a change in his income to the Veterans' Administration but we feel such cases would be rare. The enactment of this provision would eliminate an unneeded burden on the elderly disabled veteran and furthermore would be a great savings in time and money for the Veterans' Administration.
At the present time, in the event of the death of a veteran or his wife, if he and his wife had a joint bank or savings account, the Veterans' Administration requires that the survivor report half of this joint account as his or her income in determining their entitlement to à pension. We think this is most unjust and urge your support of the provision in H.R. 372 to eliminate the counting of the proceeds of a joint bank account as the income of the surviving spouse for pension purposes.
You have under consideration at this time a number of bills pertaining to the dependency and indemnity compensation program, so we wish to briefly express our views on this subject. The basic rate of DIC for widows has not been increased since October 1, 1963, at which time it was increased from $112 to $120 monthly. So certainly an increase in the DIC basic rate is long overdue.
In addition to the $120 monthly basic rate, a widow's DIC payment also includes 12 percent of her husband's military basic pay, so in