Page images

tion. The officers of the retired officers club in my district have repeatedly told me of the problems faced by widows and have sought my advice. Consideration of the problem led me to the conviction that Congress should provide relief to the widows of career personnel.

At this point I would like to include as a part of my testimony a statement prepared by the Peninsula Retired Officer Club. It is a comprehensive statement which I feel establishes a forceful case in behalf of these widows.


H.R. 1140

The application of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation law is inequitable and fails to carry out the intent of Congress. Congress intended to provide support for widows of veterans whose death was "related to service or to service-connected disability.” In the application of the law, the first intent, "death related to service", is largely ignored (emphasis supplied.)

The common practice is to award compensation only to the widows of veterans where the death certificate definitely gives the cause of death to be the disability for which the veterans was retired. No attention is paid to those many cases where death is related to service but not so stated on the death certificate. The average physician attending at time of death is unfamiliar with the distinction administratively applied. In general he does not know the veterans service or medical history and, hence, gives some apparent cause without consideration of underlying causes.

Military service can and generally does place a man under tremendous pressure. The effects of such stress may not result in death until years after the stress was applied. It is an accepted medical fact that high stress produces bodily changes which may not become critical until long after the stress was experienced.

During the last three major wars many career officers and men suffered from conditions which should have put them on sick report. Their sense of responsibility and stoic determination to properly care for their troops prevented them from seeking medical attention due to the apprehension they would be sent to the rear for treatment. Only when an officer's condition prevented him from properly leading his troops would he seek medical help. In many cases medical attention would have determined a condition which would have provided a service-connected disability retirement. The survivors of these gallant officers now find themselves without the benefits Congress intended they would receive.

Servicemen are frequently retired for physical disability due to airplane crashes or other accidents. It is exceedingly difficult to die of broken bones or other body injuries, yet the damage done can so impair bodily functions as to result in death long after the accident. In addition, the injuries frequently prevent or impair employment upon retirement. It was the intent of Congress to provide for these cases. As an example—an aviator, with 26 years service retired with 80% disability due to injuries in an airplane crash, then lived for 14 years and died of cancer. Voluminous similar cases of this nature exist where the widow receives no compensation.

The surviving widow of a man who has devoted his life to a career in the Armed Services does not receive any compensation or annuities unless the husband was retired for physical disability and is able to die of the exact disability which caused his retirement. The only exception is when the service man contributes part of his pay to the Retired Serviceman's Family Protection Plan. This plan is very expensive by comparison with the benefits accorded the widows of Civil Service retirees. That it is not a sound investment is shown by the fact that less than 20% of the military service retirees are using the plan.

As the Committee knows, the Retired Serviceman's Family Protection Plan is now being reviewed and legislation has been introduced and is being prepared to provide an equitable plan for the survivors of military personnel. It is to be expected that a new or revised plan may be enacted by the Congress in the not too distant future. The application of this Bill will, however, provide just treatment under the intent of the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Law to those now widowed and those who may become widowed until a program for the survivors of all career military retirees becomes effective.

While Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a benefit provided solely at Government expense and is not funded, it is appropriate to remember that military pay has always been set by Congress at a reduced rate to provide for the contingency of retirement. All members of the Armed Forces have made, over

the years, an imputed contribution of 6.5% to their retirement by accepting lower active duty pay by that amount. However, nothing is credited to their accounts and they leave no equity in these payments for their survivors. This is acknowledged by the Department of Defense and the Congress. The following statements is made on page 112 of Document No. 3, "Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services”, House Armed Services Committee, February 17, 1969 :

... However members are deemed to make an imputed contribution of 6.5% of basic pay because basic pay rates are set with appropriate recognition of the fact that they make no cash contribution."

When one considers the millions who have been in the services who have thus. contributed toward retirement and that only approximately 37% actually become retired, it is apparent that the money has been collected over the years. to more than pay for survivors benefits.

The U.S. Veterans Advisory Committee, established by President Johnson, in its report made to the Administrator of Veterans Affairs on March 18, 1968 stated in Recommendation No. 7:

“The Commission recommends payments of career service type benefits at the same rates as those in the DIC program, to widows of members or former members of the Armed Forces with 30 or more years of active duty and whose death was from causes unrelated to service."

* * *

“In cases where the veteran's full quota of productive years were expended in the service of his country, it is clear that he had little opportunity to provide for the care of his family after his death. He was not able to earn entitlement to Social Security or other plans in an amount which would adequately con. tribute to support of dependents. If a veteran's death is not related to service or to his service-connected disability, the veteran's family is not eligible for VA death. benefits, except perhaps pension. Although there is a Retired Serviceman's Family Protection Plan, its conditions for establishing entitlement tend to discourage general participation.

"It is therefore recommended that widows of servicemen, or retired servicemen, who had 30 years or more of active duty and who died from nonserviceconnected causes, be eligible to receive a career service type benefit at the same rates as those provided in the DIC program, provided the deaths are not a result of misconduct."

The Committee will please note that the Advisory Committee in making this recommendation was not referring to veterans in general but to those career veterans, the hard core of our regular forces, who have been the backbone of our defenses over the years.

The requirement of 30 or more years of active duty would eliminate the survivors of a great many retirees. The Committee should consider that the Congress has pronounced, in effect, that a career in the military service is 20 years by providing for a 20-year retirement. Many veterans of World War II and Korea were retired, with or without physical disability and voluntarily or involuntarily with less than 30 years service. Following the Korean War, service personnel were generally encouraged to retire before 30 years in order to provide for more rapid promotion. The Committee should also take note of the fact that the pay tables are so arranged as to encourage retirement before 30 years. The pay tables for 1938, for example, provide the last pay increase for length of service as follows: E-5, 10 yrs; E-6, 18 yrs; E-7, 20 yrs; 0-4, 18 yrs; 0-5, 22 yrs; 0–6, 26 yrs; 0–7, 18 yrs; 0–8, 22 yrs. The 1968 pay tables provide for the last pay increase as follows: E-5, 14 yrs; E-6, 18 yrs; E-7, 26 yrs; 0-4, 18 yrs; 0–5, 22 yrs ; 0–6, 26 yrs; 0-7, 18 yrs; 0-8, 22 yrs.

A member of the armed services, having been in service in two or more major wars, looking ahead seeing slim chances for promotion, being encouraged to retire and noting no further increase in pay, can hardly be expected to remain on active duty just to complete 30 years. A check of the length of active service of military retirees will establish that the majority retired with between 20 and 30 years.

In view of these facts, to establish 30 years as a criteria is considered unrealistic. Congress, in effect, established 20 years as the length of a military career and having done so the pay tables discourage longer service than the number of years specified in the tables for pay raises. Thirty years is no longer, therefore, a considered length of carrer service.

The Committee will note that the Veterans Advisory Committee stated :

... where a veteran's full quota of productive years were expended in the service of his country, it is clear that he has had little opportunity to provide for the care of his family after his death."

In making this statement the Committee was thinking, no doubt of 30 years; however, it is clear that in many cases the productive years were much less than 30. In many cases injuries prevent full productive employment during retirement. There are several cases which have come to our attention and no doubt similar unfortunate cases have come to the attention of members of the Committee.

Continuing the foregoing quotation :

“... He was not able to earn entitlement to Social Security or other plans in an amount which would adequately contribute to support of dependents. If a veteran's death is not related to service or to his service-connected disability, the veteran's family is not eligible for VA death benefits, except perhaps pension. Although there is a Retired Serviceman's Family Protection Plan, its conditions for establishing entitlement tend to discourage general participation. As a result the veteran's widow is usually in financial straits."

You have perhaps noted that quite recently the Department of Defense has realized that many retirees are ill prepared for civilian employment and has moved to assist them. Unfortunately this good work does not aid the widow of today nor for a few years ahead. There is no doubt but that several military specialties do not equip one for a civilian career.

These career people, the injured and the ill-prepared for civil employment, have been most valuable to this Republic, yet the cards are stacked against them not only in civil employment but in the application of the requirements now administratively imposed under the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation laws.

As the Advisory Committee noted, many widows are left in financial straits for which the present pension program, with a maximum payment of $74 per month, fails to properly provide. Moreover, eligibility for this small pension is contingent upon a showing that a widow's annual income does not exceed $2,000.

Mr. Chairman, my bill, H. R. 1140, was introduced to obtain relief because of the numerous cases which have come to my attention where I felt widows were improperly treated. Since relief is not available under existing statutes, I urge the committee's favorable consideration and appreciate this opportunity to present this evidence for the record.



ASSOCIATION Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to present the views of the Blinded Veterans Association on H.R. 10913, a bill designed to improve benefits under the dependency and indemnity compensation program for the widows and children of certain deceased veterans.

The Blinded Veterans Association was founded in March 1945 as a membership organization of veterans who lost their sight as a result of their service in the armed forces of the United States. It was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York in 1947 and was chartered by Act of Congress in 1958. Its members include blinded veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Viet Nam Era.

From time to time, certain specific needs requiring additional legislative authority become apparent. One of these is the need of a veteran with a permanent and total service-connected disability to provide financial security for his survivors despite inability to obtain adequate insurance and adequate employment, the normal means of creating a suitable estate. We believe that H.R. 10913 meets this vital need, and we recommend favorable action on it.

For those presently eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation, the increased benefits provided by H.R. 10913 will be most welcome. As you know, the Consumer Price Index has increased by 10.7 percentage points during the last three calendar years alone; and the cost of living is still continuing to rise at a rapid rate. It is superfluous for me to tell the members of this Committee of the problems of people who have to live on fixed incomes under these circumstances. However, I would like to state that the Blinded Veterans Association believes that the benefit structure for disabled veterans and their families should take into account generally improved living standards as well as increased living costs.

Existing law permits the payment of DIC to survivors of veterans who died from service-connected causes. As you know, the amount of dependency and indemnity compensation is determined by the rank the deceased veteran held while in the armed forces since part of it is a percentage of his basic pay. The apparent

rationale for this was undoubtedly to allow survivors an income more closely related to their accustomed family income. In the interest of equity, we believe that the survivors of veterans who die while receiving disability compensation should be given the option of having their dependency and indemnity compensation related to armed forces basic pay or veterans disability compensation, whichever is higher. H.R. 10913 will accomplish this.

The maximum amount under this proposed option would go to a widow of a veteran who was so severely disabled that he was receiving $700 monthly compensation under Section 314 (0) or (p) plus $300 a month for regular aid and attendance under Section 314 (r). Her DIC under the provisions of H.R. 10913 would be $240 a month ($120 plus $120), approximately the amount a widow of a lieutenant colonel would be entitled to receive. The widow of a veteran receiving $400 a month under Section 314(j) for a permanent and total disability would be entitled to monthly DIC of $168.

The Blinded Veterans Association strongly endorses provisions of H.R. 10913 which would entitle survivors of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled from service-connected conditions to dependency and indemnity compensation regardless of the cause of death. In many instances, it would be difficult to accurately evaluate the impact of a permanent and total disability on the death of the veteran. For example, can anyone authoritatively say that the prolonged stress caused by attempting to function with a permanent and total disability is not an important factor in the etiology of cardio-vascular diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke? What is the effect of prolonged emotional stress or of physical stress induced in body parts at the time the disability was incurred in the eitology of malignancies? What is the effect of prolonged physical inactivity or decreased physical activity resulting from a permanent and total disability? What imbalances in body function with what long term effects were induced by injury to body parts? These are some of the questions which should be considered in determining eligibility for dependency and indemnity compensation, and I do not believe that any of them can be answered unequivocally in the light of present knowledge. We believe that it would be more equitable to extend eligibility for DIC to the survivors of veterans with permanent and total service-connected disabilities regardless of the apparent cause of death.

There are other factors which should also be considered. Frequently, the permanently and totally disabled veteran is unable to create a reasonably adequate estate for his survivors because of unemployment or underemployment. Therefore, survivors benefits under the Social Security Act would generally be minimal. Frequently, because of the service-connected disability, adequate insurance is either unavailable or available only at prohibitive rates.

There are clear precedents for the extension of eligibility for DIC to the survivors of veterans with permanent and total service-connected disabilities. The benefits of the War Orphans Educational Assistance Act and admission to the service academies have both been extended to the children of such veterans. Also, the 90th Congress authorized educational benefits for the widows and wives of veterans so disabled.

This Subcommittee will be interested to know that Canada provides death pension to the survivors of veterans rated 50% or more disabled from service-connected causes without any means test and without distinction as to the cause of death. Canada also grants the surviving widow of such a veteran the full amount of his disability compensation for one year after his death as a means of assisting her to adjust to new financial circumstances. The widow of a Canadian veteran who is rated as 100% disabled for service-connected blindness receives a widow's pension of $200 a month. Also, the veterans allowances for dependent children of $34 for the first child, $26 for the second child, and $20 for the third and subsequent children are doubled to the widow on the veterans' death. Thus, widow of a Canadian blinded veteran with three dependent children would receive $360 a month. This amount is not related to the veteran's rank while in the Canadian armed forces, the cause of his death, or his widow's:


financial resources. The sole criterion for eligibility for these benefits is the veteran's permanent and total service-connected disability.

The Blinded Veterans Association respectfully urges this Subcommittee to act favorably on other pending bills designed to increase the base rate on which dependency and indemnity compensation is calculated. We would also recommend and increase in the amount allotted for each dependent child, including the first child.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would ke express the deep appreciation of the members of the Blinded Veterans Association to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for the sympathetic role it has played in the development of needed veterans legislation over the years. We sincerely hope that the Committee will act favorably on H.R. 10913 and other bills designed to increase dependency and indemnity compensation.

Mr. Dorn. Is there anything further to come before the subcommittee this morning? If not, the hearing is adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.

(Thereupon, at 10:50 a.m. the subcommittee adjourned.)

« PreviousContinue »