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STATEMENT OF JERRY R. MONROE, NATIONAL PRESIDENT,
BLINDED VETERANS ASSOCIATION Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I thank you for this oppor. tunity to express the views of the Blinded Veterans Association on H.R. 1862 and H.R. 1866.
A top priority item in the BVA legislative program is an increase in disability compensation reflecting the rise in the cost of living since the last such increase.
That last increase was provided in Public Law 94-433 effective October 1, 1976. Your subcommittee was active in passing this legislation through to enactment, and we greatly appreciate your support.
While fortunately the rate of inflation has slowed in recent months, it is still making inroads in the purchasing power of those who live on fixed incomes, as do a large proportion of our membership and many other disabled veterans and their survivors. This situation has triggered an increase, effective March 1, 1977, in the compensation of retired military and civilian personnel of the Federal Gov. ernment. It was announced a few days ago that Social Security payments will be increased by approximately 6 percent effective July 1, 1977. Also, the machinery is in motion to provide an estimated 6 percent cost of living increase to active civil service and military personnel effective October 1, 1977.
We believe that the circumstances facing disabled veterans and their survivors do not differ materially from those applicable to retired and active federal personnel, social security beneficiaries, and many other groups whose compensation is tied to the cost of living. For this reason, the BVA strongly urges the enactment at this session by the Congress of legislation which will assure that the purchasing power of disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation is fully maintained through appropriate adjustments reflecting cost of living increases since last October. Anything else would be unfair and inequitable to this most deserving group. We therefore strongly urge passage of H.R. 1862.
While on the subject of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, we would like to express our appreciation to the chairman of the subcommittee for introducing H.R. 4209. This bill would amend section 410 of the code mandating the payment of dependency and indemnity compensation to the eligible survivors of blinded veterans who were rated permanently and totally disabled even though their deaths may not have been directly attributable to "service incurred injuries." We realize that this is a major change in the long standing requirement that such benefits be granted only in the case of "service-connected or compensable disability" (38 U.S.C. 410.)
However, we believe that the present statute inherently vitiates the will of Congress and especially the sentiments of this subcommittee in that it has created an anomaly by denying DIC to those who may need it most. The latest VA study on the DIC awards shows that of all applicants nearly 90 percent were approved. It is clear from this result that the VA took note of the directive of this subcommittee to be liberal in its award policy (the 1975 study indicated an approximately 75 percent acceptance.) However, of the applications from the survivors of blinded veterans considered in the study, only about 40 percent were awarded DIC.
The reason for this difference in the percentage of approvals is simple : a man who was blinded in combat, although incurring a tremendous handicap to his ability to build an estate, probably will not die from his blindness. Whereas, in the cases of those veterans who sustain other type injuries which would rate them permanent and totally disabled, such as a serious stomach or chest wound, their deaths are usually easily attributable to their disabilities.
We believe that the true purpose of the Dependency and Indemnity compensation program is to provide benefits to the survivor of a veteran who, but for his combat injury could have built an estate, or, but for his injury could have secured life insurance from a private insurance company. The blinded veteran is exactly this man. Until recently, private insurance companies would not indemnify the life of a blind person. The blinded veterans included in the DIC study cited above left estates averaging less than $5.000.
The remedy to this inherent inequity is H.R. 4209. The estimate of the yearly cost has been requested by the committee and we expect it to be well under $700,000. We strongly urge this subcommittee to take H.R. 4209 under consideration and to report favorablv upon it.
Turning now to H.R. 1866. This bill would provide increased a wards of service connected compensation to certain veterans who have suffered the loss or loss of use of paired extremities.
We commend both the chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, Mr. Roberts, and you, Mr. Montgomery, for the introduction of this measure. Its passage into law would recognize and bring relief to a group of veterans, albeit small in number, but a group whose disabilities are severe.
In the case of blindness in one eye the process of “sympathetic blindness" of the other is a medically recognized fact. In such a case there would be no question that the service connected injury was the cause, in fact, of the loss of sight in the other eye. We strongly urge the subcommittee to report favorably on H.R. 1866.
However, H.R. 1866 lends itself to being expanded to provide relief to veterans who have multiples of three of the disabilities covered by this bill. The BVA has been, and is, deeply concerned over those blinded veterans who also have a loss of hearing and/or have suffered the loss of a hand or a foot.
Resolutions adopted at two BVA National Conventions request the Congress to amend Title 38 to grant increased compensation for the loss of use of a hand or foot when it occurs in combination with blindness. Additionally, our 1975 and 1976 Conventions adopted a similar resolution with the added proviso that loss of hearing in combination with blindness should receive increased compensation. Our request and support for such legislation is based upon the realization that the loss of tactile sense caused by an artificial hand or foot is considerably more handicapping when it occurs in combination with blindness since such loss deprives the blinded veteran of essential contacts with the environment. The use of an orthopedic cane to assist a blinded veteran who also has lost a leg possibly deprives him of the use of a long cane as a mobility tool.
The BVA is equally concerned with the present method used by the Veterans Administration in rating impaired hearing in combination with blindness. It would seem to be obvious that the sense of hearing becomes the principal avenue of information for a blind person and that impaired hearing in combination with blindness compounds problems incident to the pursuit of vocational, social and recreational activities. Currently, except for a few statutory provisions dealing with loss of hearing in combination with the loss of sight, the Veterans Administration Disability Rating Schedule assigns percentages of disability for hearing loss occurring in blinded persons as if such hearing losses occurred in individuals with normal vision.
Pursuant to Resolution No. 12, adopted by the BVA in 1971, the BVA has met upon several occasions over the past several years with representatives of the VA with respect to this particular matter. Although the VA has indicated that revising the current method of rating impaired hearing in combination with blindness is a regulatory, rather than legislative responsibility, and thus can be accomplished by the Administrator of Veterans Affairs, the VA has not followed through. Mr. Chairman, I cannot emphasize too strongly the degree of the additional disability that the loss of a hand, or a foot, or that deafness in both ears, or total deafness in one ear adds to a blind person's already severe disability.
His capability for self mobility is severely restricted and movement through unfamiliar areas by himself becomes extremely hazardous. Complete loss of hearing in one ear might at first thought seem not too significant. However, please consider the situation that such a blind person finds himself in on a busy Street. Without binaural hearing he is unable to fix in position those things which pose a danger to his safe passage.
I have attached to this statement the language contained in H.R. 13496, submitted by Mr. Teague, in the 94th Congress. The provisions of this proposal could easily be incorporated into H.R. 1863, a step which we strongly urge. However, if need be, it lends itself to being introduced and reported out as a separate bill, which we urge as the second alternative.
We estimate the number of veterans involved to be about 1,000, with 300-500 blinded veterans with the loss of a hand or foot and about the same numbers with the loss of hearing or total deafness in one ear.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you on behalf of all blinded veterans for having had this opportunity to express these views.
A BILL To amend title 38 of the United States Code to provide increased awards of
service-connected compensation to certain blinded veterans who are suffering from additional disabilities
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, That (a) subsection (0) of section 314 of title 38, United States Cods is amended by striking out “60 per centum or more disabling” and inserting in lieu thereof the following: “20 per centum or more disabling, or the veteran has suffered service-connected total deafness in one ear, or has suffered the anatomical loss or loss of use of a hand or of a foot”.
(b) subsection (p) of section 314 of title 38 United States Code is amended by striking out “In the event the veteran 'has suffered service-connected blindness with 5/200 visual acuity or less and (1) has also suffered bila ral deafness (and the hearing impairment in either one or both ears is service-connected) rated at no less than 40 per centum disabling, the Administrator shall allow the next higher rate, or (2) has suffered service-connected total deafness in one ear, the Administrator shall allow the next intermediate rate, but in no event in excess of $1,231."
Sec. 2. This Act shall be effective the first day of the first month following the date of its enactment.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Now, Mr. Peckarsky, unless you have anything else, we appreciate you and your deputy being here this morning, and thank you for this helpful testimony.
Mr. PECKARSKY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. We would like to now call the representatives of the American Legion, Mr. Ed Lord, who is director of the national legislative commission, and Mr. Golembieski, who is director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation commission.
I would like to welcome both of you gentlemen.
STATEMENT OF EDWARD J. LORD, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, NA
TIONAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION, ACCOMPANIED BY EDWARD H. GOLEMBIESKI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VETERANS AFFAIRS AND REHABILITATION COMMISSION OF THE AMERICAN LEGION
Mr. LORD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Guyer. We are pleased to be here this morning.
Mr. Golembieski will read our statemetnt. If you would prefer, in the interests of time, we are prepared to summarize, and then to entertain any questions the subcommittee may have.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Well, I will leave that up to you. We prefer summaries, but we do not want ever to cut
Mr. LORD. Well, at your discretion, Mr. Chairman, we will be pleased to summarize.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Without objection, the full statement will be put in the record.
STATEMENT OF THE AMERICAN LEGION, BY EDWARD J. LORD, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR,
NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION, AND EDWARD H. GOLEMBIESKI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VETERANS AFFAIRS AND REHABILITATION COMMISSION
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, the American Legion appreciates the opportunity to present testimony on three bills that seek to improve the veterans and dependents service-connected benefit programs, and to further improve the automobile assistance allowance for certain WW I veterans and to increase awards of compensation to veterans suffering loss of paired extremities.
Joining me this morning is Mr. Edward H. Golembieski, Director of The American Legion's National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission. Mr. Chairman, at your discretion, Mr. Golembieski will either read his entire statement or summarize.
STATEMENT OF E. H. GOLEMBIESKI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VETERANS AFFAIRS AND
REHABILITATION COMMISSION THE AMERICAN LEGION
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: We appreciate the opportunity given The American Legion to present its views on the three bills scheduled for consideration at this time. With your permission, we shall proceed to present our discussion on each measure separately.
H.R. 1862, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to increase the rates of disability compensation for disabled veterans; to increase the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation; and for other purposes.
Disability compensation is a monthly payment made by the Veterans Administration to a veteran because of a service-connected disability and based on the degree or percentage of disability.
According to section 355 of title 38, the Administrator adopts and applies a schedule of ratings of reductions in earning capacity from specific injuries or combination of injuries. These ratings, as far as practicable, are based upon the average impairments of earning capacity resulting from such injuries in civil occupations. From time to time, the Administrator adjusts or readjusts this schedule of ratings in accordance with experience.
At present, section 314 of title 38, United States Code, provides for payment of compensation of $707 monthly to those veterans whose service-connected disabilities are rated 100 percent or totally disabling. Higher monthly payments are provided for those whose service-connected disabilities warrant ratings in excess of total, and for those whose service-connected impairments are rated from 10 percent to 90 percent, the monthly payments range from $38 to $393.
Section 315 provides for additional monthly compensation for the wives, children and dependent parents of those veterans entitled to compensation under section 314, and whose service-connected disabilities are rated not less than 50 percentum.
Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) is a monthly payment made by the Veterans Administration to a surviving spouse or child because of a service-connected death. Monthly rates payable to the surviving spouse are based on the pay grade of the person upon whose death entitlement is predicated, and as set forth in the table under section 411 of this title. At present, these pay grades range from E-1 through 0–10, and the monthly DIC payments range from $260 to $664. Where there is an eligible child or children of the veteran, these rates are increased by $31 monthly for each child.
Section 413 of this title provides for specific monthly payments of dependency and indemnity compensation for those children of the veteran where there is no widowed spouse entitled, and section 414 provides for supplemental payments to children under circumstances such as helplessness with permanent inability of self-support; pursuing a course of instruction at an approved educational institution, etc.
Payments of monthly rates of disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation were last increased by Public Law 94433, approved September 30, 1976 and effective October 1, 1976. To maintain the purchasing power of those receiving or entitled to receive these monthly benefits, the rates payable must respond to cost-of-living increases as measured by the Consumer Price Index. As compiled and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, the October 1, 1976 Consumer Price Index was 173.3.
President Carter's revised budget for Fiscal Year 1978 provides for an increase of 4.9 percent in the monthly payments of disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation, effective October 1, 1978, and at an added annual cost of $265.9 million. This increase in the revised budget was predicated on a 5 percent growth in the Consumer Price Index by October 1, 1978.
According to our study of current trends in the Index, the percentage increase recommended in the revised 1978 budget is inadequate. As an illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for January 1977 reports a rise of 0.6 percent in January–5.2 percent higher than in January 1976. And for February 1977, the report states that the Index was 6.0 percent higher than in February 1976. Further, the report states—“on a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI also rose 1.0 percent in February. This compares with an increase of 0.8 percent in January. The February rise was the largest since September 1974."
H.R. 1862 proposes an average increase of 6 percent in the monthly rates of compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation. While we support the increases proposed in this measure over those proposed by the Administration, we suggest a look at the trend in the forthcoming March 1977 Consumer Price Index. It will, we believe, show an average annual increase in excess of 6 percent.
H.R. 1864, a bill to amend title 38 of the United States Code to provide an automobile assistance allowance, and to provide automotive adaptive equipment to certain veterans not now qualifying for such benefits.
Chapter 39 of title 38 of such Code, establishes disability and service criteria for the automobile assistance allowance as well as the adaptive equipment. In part, an eligible person is defined as any veteran entitled to compensation under Chapter 11 of this title for any of the following disabilities“
(1) The loss or permanent loss or loss of use of one or both feet;
(3) The permanent impairment of vision of both eyes of the following degree: central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye, with corrective glasses, or central visual acuity of more than 20/200 if there is a field defect in which the peripheral field has contracted to such an extent that the widest diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater
than twenty degrees in the better eye if the disability is the result of an injury incurred or disease contracted in or aggravated by active military, naval, or air service on or after September 16, 1940.
Initially, the eligibility to the automobile assistance allowance was restricted to World War II veterans. The several amendments expanded the eligibility to veterans of the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Era, and finally to all those with the required disability arising in active service after September 16, 1940. In the initial legislation, as well as in the succeeding amendments, Congress chose to exclude the World War I veteran.
In part, H.R. 1864 would extend eligibility to the automobile assistance allowance and adaptive equipment to veterans of World War I, that is, those with qualifying disability arising from service beginning April 6, 1917 and ending November 11, 1918 (for those with service in Russia, ending on April 1, 1920).
Mr. Chairman, we have and will continue to support the extension of Chapter 39 entitlement to eligible World War I veterans.
The other part of H.R. 1864 proposes a new section 1904 “Adaptive Equipment for Certain Other Veterans.” Under this section, veterans who have a permanent service-connected disability of not less than 30 per centum and which impairs their ability to operate an automobile or other conveyance, would be entitled to such adaptive equipment deemed by the VA to be necessary to overcome such impairment.
Mr. Chairman, we do not have a position on the purpose of the new section 1904. It is, though, constructive legislation and, for that reason, we pose no objection to its enactment.
H.R. 1866, a bill to amend 38 USC 360 to provide increased awards of serviceconnected compensation to certain veterans who have suffered the loss or loss of use of paired extremities.
As this Subcommittee knows, section 360 already gives special consideration for certain cases of blindness or bilateral kidney involvement or bilateral deafness. H.R. 1866 would amend section 360 so as to provide that where any veteran has suffered the loss or loss of use of one hand or one foot as the result of service-connected disability, and has suffered the loss or loss of use of the other hand or foot as a result of nonservice-connected disability not the result of his own willful misconduct, the Administrator shall assign and pay to the veteran concerned the applicable rate of disability compensation as if the loss or loss of use of the paired limbs were the result of service-connected disability.
We have. Mr. Chairman, supported enactment of a similar provision during the 94th Congress, and we again urge this Subcommittee's favorable report to the full Committee and eventual passage by the House.
· Before concluding, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, we want to invite your attention to two other veterans legislative matters of concern to The American Legion.
The first is. H.R. 3511, a bill to amend section 312 so as to provide that muscular atrophy developing to a compensable degree within seven years of dis