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STATEMENT OF EARLE H. PICARD, NATIONAL COMMANDER,
VETERANS OF WORLD WAR I, U.S.A., INC. Mr. PICARD. Chairman Dorn, distinguished members of this committee, I feel that I have reached one of the high points of my life in coming before this distinguished body, representing today, in some part, my wounded disabled comrades. Being a wounded veteran with service-connected disabilities, and lying in a hospital bed for a year and a half, I understand some of the conditions faced by our disabled veterans. World War I veterans are getting older. World War II veterans are getting older, and I hope, with the presentation today of the Veterans of World War I, before you, there will be, in some measure, parts of it that will help you make a decision that will bring substantial relief for our service-connected disabled comrades.
Our Nation has always recognized its indebtedness to its former servicemen, and has a long-established program of compensation and pensions to render financial assistance to disabled veterans and their dependents.
The disability compensation program provides aid to veterans with service-connected disabilities to compensate them for the loss or reduction of earning power resulting from such disabilities, based on average impairment of earning capacity resulting from comparable injuries and disease in civil life.
I would like at this time to express the appreciation of the Veterans of World War I and myself, for the privilege of appearing before this distinguished committee on behalf of the service-connected American veterans in support of H.R. 5653, introduced by the Honorable Winfield K. Denton, March 2, 1965. This bill calls for an average increase in the rates of approximately 15 percent. We are aware of the fact that this rate may not be adequate in respect to our disabled buddies, many of them who have to rely in a large measure on compensation to supplement a very small income.
We are all aware of the responsibility we owe the disabled veterans who have given so much in defense of this Nation. It is clearly a duty of all of us to come to the assistance of those who have suffered disabilities because of their service to this Nation. We are naturally concerned about the advanced age of the World War I disabled and the ever-rising cost of living.
These older veterans are all living in retirement. Their advanced age prohibits them from being gainfully occupied in positions which would give them an adequate income to live with reasonable assurance of dignity, comfort, and peace of mind.
One must realize that the compensation now being paid to these veterans is only a slight supplement to whatever meager income they may have established for themselves. In many many cases, these disabled have not been employed. Occupations which would have given them the opportunity to create a reasonable estate which would support them in their retirement were not always open to them, because of the disabilities they had suffered in the service. While there may be certain institutional facilities that might possibly be made available to some of our more seriously disabled veterans, nevertheless, there is a strong desire among these disabled to hold to a familiar pattern of living and their prime consideration is that they want to maintain their independent living arrangements as long as possible. In this connection, fixed cash income in retirement resulted in disabled veterans trying to find areas in which to live which are less expensive and within the means of their income. Oftentimes, this results in veterans being required to live in less attractive communities than the normal surroundings to which they may have been accustomed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced March 4, 1960, that the Consumer Price Index for January 1960 was 125.4. The increases granted to the disabled, as of October of 1962, were not sufficient to meet this alltime high, and, of course, the price index has risen since that time, leaving the disabled veterans with a bare existence income, in most cases.
We believe that in our bill, that a 15-percent cost-of-living increase in compensation is reasonable to ask at this time. The total of compensation payments does not loom large in the national economy as a whole, providing less than 1 percent of the national income flow. However, the facts are that these payments are made in accordance with the criteria and rates that are uniform throughout the United States, and do supply a steady flow of economic support. Monthly payment rates vary in differing degrees of disabilities. Age is not a factor except as reflected in the degree of disablement, which ranges from 10 percent with a rate of $20, to a total disability rate of $250. Some additional amounts are paid for critical anatomical losses.
The health factor also has a tremendous economic impact on the individual. Disabled veterans as a whole, whether among the aged or younger group, have a health status which severely handicaps the individual through its influence on employment and earning power, and the ability to maintain an established living standard. Expenses of health maintenance, medical care for his family and even himself, in many cases, have accelerated greatly, and certainly with advancing age, this comes for the disabled veteran of 65 and over at a time when his income and purchasing power has declined. The physical condition of the disabled veteran today is a factor in the decision by the employer and the veteran himself as to whether he can meet the requiremnts of employment in most cases. The effects of changing health also have a direct bearing on the economics of the individual disabled veteran. Since are mostly dependent on income sources with relatively fixed rates, retirement and compensation income are of the highest importance.
We feel that the present compensation rates are, in many places, not compatible with the degree of disability that has been allowed. For example, a veteran rated at 30 percent of disability, the monthly compensation is rated at $58. Ofttimes, the nature of the disability is such as to actually cause a greater handicap in certain occupations so that the loss to the veteran in regular income is far greater than the compensation that is being allowed. This generally holds true all the way through the entire compensation structure. We realize the difficulties in rating disabilities as they actually affect the life and attitudes of each individual veteran.
The psychological condition or effect may determine or cause a possible higher degree of disability than that which is rated, and cause this veteran to be less productive in the position or employment he holds than would be normally expected.
We believe, therefore, that for this reason, compensation should be at a higher rate, and that improvement in compensation allowances should not be based wholly on a small allowance for cost-of-living purposes.
With this statement, we are submitting a chart which is based on the report of the Veterans' Administration as of June 20, 1964. While these figures necessarily must be estimated figures, nevertheless, they give a fairly reasonable picture of the overall cost of our bill based on approximately 15-percent increase in the rates.
Mr. Chairman, and members of this distinguished committee, may I again express my appreciation and thanks for the privilege of presenting the views of our organization in support of H.R. 5653 for the disabled veterans of this country. Our bill is not confined to any particular group of veterans, but includes all disabled veterans of this country. We are all in accord that any veteran who has suffered disabilities due to service to his country at any time is entitled to our consideration and deep concern.
Thank you very much.
I would just like to thank the commander for testifying today and presenting the views of the Veterans of World War I.
It is nice to see you.
Mr. HANLEY. I have no questions. I merely want to commend you for your excellent testimony on behalf of the Veterans of World War I.
Mr. DORN. Mr. Fino?
Mr. Fino. I, too, want to join my colleagues in congratulating you in making this presentation this morning. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the veterans of this country have not been treated the way they should, and this is a problem that we have in this country. We have had it for a long, long time. Wages, compensations, pensions, are not kept abreast of the conditions that exist in our country, and I feel, as you feel, that the Congress should take some action to bring these rates up some, to keep pace with our rising cost of living.
I think you made a good presentation here and a good case for your cause.
Mr. DORN. Mr. Teague?
Mr. Teague of California. Thank you for a very convincing presentation.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Commander. We appreciate your coming.
The subcommittee has received statements from Mr. Oliver C. Bacon, executive director of Blinded Veterans Association, which will be inserted at this point in the record if there is no objection.
(The statement referred to follows:)
STATEMENT OF OLIVER C. BACON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BLINDED VETERANS
ASSOCIATION, CONCERNING H.R. 540 On behalf of the Blinded Veterans Association, I wish to thank the members of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for the opportunity of presenting this statement in favor of enactment of H.R. 540, a bill "to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide an 11-percent increase in rates of disability compensation, and for other purposes."
This bill, we feel, is of utmost importance to all blinded veterans. With the cost of living increasing steadily, a compensation increase is vital to the persons who are constantly being caught in the battle of “out-go versus income.” To the blinded veterans who are on a fixed income, this battle is constant and, inevitably, a losing one.
The Blinded Veterans Association wishes to prevent the families of these blinded veterans from suffering as a result of this cost-of-living increase draining their limited income.
Since many of the blinded veterans have disabilities other than their blindness which prevent them from obtaining gainful employment, or require their acceptance of a lesser paying job, this further limits their income, thereby making them mainly dependent on their compensation. There can be no doubt that a compensation increase is in order at this time.
In order that they may arrive at a more equitable balance between income and the cost of living, we respectfully request favorable consideration of the passage of H.R. 540.
STATEMENT BY OLIVER C. BACON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BLINDED VETERANS
ASSOCIATION, RELATIVE TO H.R. 5320
On behalf of the Blinded Veterans Association, I wish to thank the members of the Subcommittee on Compensation and Pension for the opportunity of presenting this statement in favor of enactment of H.R. 5320.
It has been the wish of the Blinded Veterans Association for many years to have a more equitable schedule for rating the disability of hearing, when in combination with blindness. The rating of a hearing loss for those persons who have normal sight cannot be the same as for those persons who have suffered the loss of sight. Studies over the last 15 years have shown that hearing loss to the blind is considerably more disabling than to the sighted. A blind person must, by the nature of his disability, depend on his other senses for mobility and environ nental orientation.
When a blind person has lost the ability to determine accurately the direction of the sourse of a sound, his independence is extremely limited. The importance of hearing to the blind cannot be overstressed, and it is for this reason the BVA wishes to go on record in requesting favorable consideration of this bill.
When rating a hearing loss, the present percentage method seems inadequate when viewing it in combination with blindness. To those persons who have a hearing loss resulting from a nerve impairment, hearing devices are useless. Not only must we consider speech sounds in hearing impairment, but we must also consider the daily environmental sounds which permit the blind person to orient himself. These environmental sounds may be muffled traffic noices, the sound of footsteps, the shuffling of papers, an air conditioner, etc. How many of these environmental noises fall within the speech range is not known, yet the many so-called “insignificant” noises are of tremendous importance in the total orientation of the blind individual.
The Veterans' Administration has the authority, under title 38, U.S. Code, section 314(0), to recognize total deafness in combination with total blindness; however, there is no provision whereby it may officially recognize the problems of the partially deaf, when in combination with blindness. It is this latter group with whom we are mainly concerned.
The Blinded Veterans Association would like to see an additional phrase used in the appropriate place whereby the Veterans' Administration would compensate not only for total deafness in combination with total blindness, but for partial deafness in combination with blindness, as well.
Again, thank you for the privilege of presenting this statement to the subcommittee.
Mr. DORN. The committee has also received a letter from the Military Order of the Purple Heart which, without objection, will be inserted in the record at this point.
(The letter referred to follows:)
MILITARY ORDER OF THE PURPLE HEART,
Washington, D.C., April 29, 1965. Hon. OLIN E. TEAGUE, Chairman, House Veterans' Affairs Committee, House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
DEAR CONGRESSMAN TEAGUE: The combat-veteran recipients of the Purple Heart Medal thank you for this opportunity to voice their wholehearted approval for an increase in the compensation benefits for service-connected disabilities.
As you gentlemen are well aware, our organization is composed of men who “had to be there” even to qualify, and right today men are qualifying for the Purple Heart Medal in places far away from their homes and loved ones. Official figures indicate that 1,594 Americans have received Purple Hearts since 1963; 422 were awarded in January, February, and March of this year alone.
We recognize that service-connected disability compensation rates have been adjusted from time to time in order to keep pace with the fundamental changes in price levels. Public Law 87–645, effective October 1, 1962, granted the most recent compensation increases, ranging from $1 per month for the 10-percent disabled, $7 per month for the 50-percent disabled, and $25 per month for those totally incapacitated. These increases, averaging 9.4 percent, were most welcome and particularly helpful to veterans with the greater disabilities.
But even these adjustments 3 years ago were delayed well over a year and might never have occurred had it not been for the cooperative efforts of this committee and its understanding and dynamic chairman, Senators Byrd and Long, and the united effort of eight veterans' organizations.
Based on the increase in cost of living and increases granted workers in the general economy since 1933, wartime compensations need to be increased by at least 13 percent. In our review, we find that H.R. 168 and H.R. 169 come closest to our thinking. One is proposed by a lifetime member of our organization, the chairman of this committee, and the other by our comrade organization, the Disabled American Veterans.
We should like to urge an overall increase of 1312 percent—with a low of 10 percent for the 10- to 30-percent disabled veteran to a high of 20 percent for the 100-percent disabled veteran. If our suggestions were to be effected, the final result would be as tabulated below:
We recognize the high priority attained by the wartime service-connected veteran with your committee, the Congress, and the American public in the distribution of the tax dollar.
We are aware that it has long been accepted that disability compensation is payment for wounds and injuries suffered in line of duty and that even the highly vocal opponents to the non-service-connected pensions, have always contended that the sky is the limit insofar as payments to the war disabled are concerned.
We are certain it has always been the intent of Congress that a disabled veteran should receive such compensation as would maintain for him a reasonable standard of living. Today's rates fail to provide such a standard.
Your sincere and fair consideration has always been appreciated by the wounded combat veterans of America and by the Military Order of the Purple Heart of the United States of America. We thank you again for this. Very sincerely yours,
RICHARD P. GOLICK, National Service Director.