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DEPENDENCY AND INDEMNITY COMPENSATION FOR WIDOWS OF VETERANS WHOSE DEATH WAS SERVICE CONNECTED
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1969
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to adjournment, at 10 a.m., in room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. W. J. Bryan Dorn (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. Dorn. The subcommittee will come to order.
We are meeting to resume our hearings this morning on various dependency and indemnity compensation measures pending before the subcommittee, as well as several bills covering some aspects of the non-service-connected pension program.
Our first witness this morning will be Mr. William J. Flaherty, representing the Disabled American Veterans. We are glad to have you before the subcommittee. Just proceed in the usual manner. The subcommittee will welcome any statement you have. STATEMENT OF WILLIAM J. FLAHERTY, ASSISTANT NATIONAL
DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATION, DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS
Mr. FLAHERTY. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to express the views of the Disabled American Veterans on the pending bills which you have under consideration.
At the outset, Mr. Chairman, I wish to express our grateful appreciation for the decision to hold hearings on these very important proposals to increase the dependency and idemnity compensation payments to survivors of veterans who died as a result of service in our Armed Forces.
Among the many bills before you are four which relate specifically to proposals set forth in resolutions adopted by the DAV National Convention. Each bill was introduced by the respected chairman of this subcommittee at the request of the DAV.
The first bill to which I would like to refer is H.R. 3067. It proposes to increase the base on which dependency and indemnity compensation for widows is computed.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, under present law dependency and indemnity compensation is payable to an eligible widow at the monthly rate of $120, plus 12 per centum of the basic pay of her deceased husband. H.R. 3067 would increase the $120 factor to $130, with the 12-percent feature remaining unchanged.
In this connection, we call to the subcommittee's attention a bill which was approved recently by the Senate Committee on Finance. The measure, as reported, would increase the $120 factor to $130 plus 12 per centum of the basic pay of the deceased husband, or at a monthly rate of $170, whichever is greater.
In an appearance before the Senate committee the DAV urged approval of the $170 minimum DIC payment for several highly valid reasons. It has been established that over 80 percent of the servicemen killed in Vietnam were serving in the first five pay grades. This factor clearly demonstrates the need for improvements in the benefits paid to the survivors of noncareer military personnel. It is estimated that the proposed $170 minimum rate would benefit approximately 50 percent of the widows now on the dependency and indemnity compensation rolls. This guaranteed minimum payment would be roughly equivalent to the service-connected death benefits now paid to the widow of a sergeant with 4 years of active military service.
Additionally, the minimum payment provision described above would serve to dissipate much of the criticism of that part of the present law which gears a widow's benefit payment to her deceased husband's military rank. It would be a step in the direction of equalizing the survivors' benefits under the dependency and indemnity compensation program by making certain that widows of lower ranking enlisted men are adequately compensated.
We know that the members of this subcommittee like the DAVare deeply concerned about the continued erosion of the monthly DIC payments received by widows of war veterans.
Prices for goods and services continue to rise sharply, and as a result the present DIC payments are totally inadequate. They do not provide the place in our society which should be appropriate to the widows of men who were either killed in action, or who have subsequently died of wounds or illnesses directly resulting from their service in the Armed Forces.
We urge approval of H.R. 3067, and recommend for the subcommittee's consideration that it be amended to provide a minimum DIC payment of $170. This proposal will help restore the purchasing value of the war widow's compensation and will provide a substantial uplift in her living standards.
H.R. 3066, another pending bill, provides that if there is a widow and one or more children below the age of 18 of a deceased veteran, the dependency and indemnity compensation paid monthly to the widow shall be increased by $25 for each such child. With respect to this proposal, the present law, as you are aware, authorizes no additional DIC payment to a widow on account of children of the veteran. This feature of the law was based upon the proposition that additional benefits for children would come from the social security program.
The law provides that if there is a widow with two or more children below the age of 18 years, and the social security payment to which the widow and children are entitled (if the veteran's "average monthly wage” was less than $160) then the VA is authorized to make a supplementary payment for each child in excess of one. Under this formula, a widow with two children may receive at most an additional $28. If there are three or more children, the payment is $53. No additional payments are provided for the first child nor for any children in excess of three.
Approval of the additional $25 monthly payment for each child of the deceased veteran would rectify one of the most criticized, confusing features of the law and would do much to improve the existing DIC program.
H.R. 3070 would increase by $75 the monthly dependency and indemnity compensation to widows in need of the regular aid and attendance of another person.
In assessing the merits of this proposal it is recalled that Public Law 90–77 increased by $50 the monthly rate of non-service-connected death pension payable to a widow who, because of serious illness, is in need of regular aid and attendance. This created a situation in which a widow whose husband has died as a direct result of service incurred disability is not furnished an important financial benefit which is by law available to a widow whose husband's death was in no way connected with the performance of military service. Enactment of H.Ř. 3070 will correct this discriminatory feature of existing law.
H.R. 3079 would provide payment of dependency and indemnity compensation to certain survivors of deceased veterans who were rated 100 percent disabled by reason of service-connected disabilities for 20 or more years. This proposal involves a group of widows who we feel are deserving of dependency and indemnity compensation benefits, but because of special circumstances are denied such benefits.
In some instances a widow is refused DIC benefits on the premise that there is no "causal relationship” between the veteran's serviceconnected total disability and the disease which caused his death. In this case, the widow is debarred from DIC, even though she may have cared for and waited upon her very severely disabled war veteran husband over a period of many years. It is for this category of widow that we believe a special provision should be made by an award of dependency and indemnity compensation.
We think it entirely reasonable to say that a war veteran who has suffered the distress and debilitating effects of a service-connected total disability for 20 or more years should, thereafter, have statutory assurance that upon his death his widow will be provided for by payment of dependency and indemnity compensation.
It should be recalled that these cases do not result from the normal rigors of life. The exceptional degree of protracted nursing care (which the widow had to devote to her totally disabled husband) resulted directly from the husband's service in our Nation's Armed Forces.
In many cases it is a difficult medical problem to define a death which has been hastened by a veteran's severe service-connected war wounds. In other cases the medical evidence represents a conflict of opinion. Of major significance is the fact that these cases result in severe hardships for the widow inasmuch as her totally disabled husband was unable, during his lifetime, to follow a gainful occupation. He, very definitely, had no possible opportunity to make adequate provisions for his survivors.
Finally, we feel there is another sound basis for extending DIC benefits to the widow of a veteran totally disabled for 20 years that is to say, it should not really matter how he died but how he lived, and if he was a 100 percent disabled war veteran, then his wife played a very important part in his living which we think ought to be more fully recognized.
We think the Government has a responsibility, in this instance, which has so far been overlooked.
We respectfully urge Mr. Chairman, that you and the members of the subcommittee give thoughtful and sympathetic consideration to this meaningful legislation.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I want to express again our grateful appreciation to you for holding hearings at this time and for having introduced these important legislative bills. It is, we think, a demonstration of the subcommittee's deep and genuine concern for the needs and interest of our Nation's veterans, their dependents, and survivors.
Mr. Dorn. Mr. Flaherty, we want to thank you for a very fine and concise statement.
Any questions, Mr. Roberts?
Mr. ROBERTS. No, I just want to express my appreciation too for a good, concise, and clear statement on pending legislation. I appreciate it.
Mr. Dorn. Mr. Montgomery?
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Just one question pertaining to your last recommendation for extending DIC benefits to the widow of a veteran totally disabled for 20 years. Take the case of a veteran that was service-connected with a spinal cord break and was totally disabled and he died. YO
are proposing that after being totally disabled for 20 years no matter what was the cause of his death the widow would be eligible for service-connected benefits? Is that correct?
Mr. FLAHERTY. That is correct, sir.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. We had another group yesterday who testified and they went a step further and said it would be up to a board to decide whether his death was service connected or not, such as a 100 percent service-connected disabled veteran killed in an automobile accident and possibly it was established it was due to carelessness. Do you think such a case should be reviewed or that his widow should be given the service-connected disability benefit?
Mr. FLAHERTY. The bill we have had introduced excludes those who are killed by accidental means.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Oh, it does?
Mr. MONTGOMERY. I got the impression yesterday that one of the bills that was introduced would leave it up to a review board, but yours does exclude accidental deaths?
Mr. FLAHERTY. Yes, sir.
Mr. FLAHERTY. If the gunshot wound had some bearing on his death even if it was accidental then, of course, it would provide DIC benefits for the widow.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. That is all I have, Mr. Chairman.
STAFF DIRECTOR. This bill you have would operate on the concept that if the death was the result of misconduct or an outright accident that the Veterans Administration would not have to make a finding of that?
Mr. FLAHERTY. The VA would formulate regulations on that.
STAFF DIRECTOR. Along the line Mr. Montgomery referred to, we had an actual case of a wife who lived with a veteran 20 years and couldn't stand it any longer and shot him in the boudoir and killed him. This would be in an extreme case, I guess, that could result in the widow receiving DIC benefits in jail without some protective devices.
Mr. FLAHERTY. Yes.
Mr. DORN. I had a recent case just last week of a man who got shot on a shooting range, and I believe he will be able to recover.
Mr. FLAHERTY. He was killed ?
Mr. Dorn. No; he was shot and permanently disabled in an accident on a shooting range. He was at home at the time, but I would advise these servicemen to learn how to shoot. He got shot through the leg accidentally. Would he be covered?
Mr. FLAHERTY. He would be covered; yes.
Our next witness is Mr. Charles Mattingly, assistant director, National Legislative Commission, the American Legion, who will introduce our distinguished national director.
STATEMENT OF CHARLES E. MATTINGLY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR,
Mr. MATTINGLY. Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the American Legion, I want to thank you for this opportunity to appear before you and your distinguished subcommittee to make our views known on improvements in the DIC program.
Mr. Chairman, I don't think I would be out of order to say that the American Legion feels very much at home before your subcommittee and the full committee. While sometimes our views may differ somewhat it is a difference only in degree and not in sympathy or the overall remedy that we seek.
Also, I would like to thank you for the cooperation and help that we receive from your staff. I do not often have the opportunity to do this and with your permission I did want to do it this morning.
Mr. Chairman, our witness this morning is Mr. Edward Golembieski, director of our National Rehabilitation Commisson.