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Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Congressman Natcher. We will now hear from Congressman Jacob H. Gilbert of the State of New York. You may proceed, Mr. Gilbert.
STATEMENT BY HON. JACOB H. GILBERT, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Mr. GILBERT. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee on Veterans' Affairs, thank you for the opportunity to present my views on my bill, H.R. 1024, and related bills to amend section 503 of title 38 of the United States Code, to provide that workmen's compensation payments shall be disregarded in the computation of income for purposes of payment of pensions.
My bill proposes to exclude from consideration as income for Veterans' Administration pension purposes, payments under any workmen's compensation or industrial accident law of a State or of the United States.
I introduced this bill, and similar bills, in previous Congresses because I felt there was great need for this legislation as reflected by many communications from my constituents. I do not believe that our veterans, who gave so much for their country, should live under poverty conditions. Many of them do, however, and with limited veterans' pensions, it is unfair to them and a hardship to have their workmen's compensation payments considered in the computation of income for purposes of payment of their veterans' pensions. High living costs, ever-increasing cost of medical care, are placing all our citizens in a poverty class when they have only a meager veterans' pension as income. If a person is awarded workmen's compensation, he deserves it and needs it. If he is awarded a veteran's pension, he has earned this also. In my opinion, he is entitled to receive both pensions—he needs both in order to exist; even with both pensions he will have no luxuries after he meets ordinary living costs.
The relief provided by my bill is raesonable and of great necessity to those receiving pensions. Our veterans who sacrificed so much for our Nation deserve our gratitude and our help to the fullest extent possible.
I again urge your committee to take favorable action on my bill, H.R. 1024, as well as on such other bills providing additional relief which may be feasible and practicable.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Congressman Gilbert. We will now hear Congressman Gale Schisler of the State of Illinois. You may proceed, Mr. Schisler.
STATEMENT BY HON. GALE SCHISLER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Mr. SCHISLER. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I appreciate very much this opportunity to appear before you in support of H. Ř. 13596, a bill I have introduced to extend pension benefits to veterans of the Moro War. Thousands of Americans served with the military and naval forces engaged in hostilities in Moro Province, including Mindanao, or on the islands of Samar or Leyte, after July 4, 1902, and prior to January 1, 1914. Under existing law they are not eligible for wartime pension benefits.
For the purposes of veterans legislation, the Philippine Insurrection is considered a part of the Spanish-American War. Thus, all servicemen who took part in the fight against the Philippine rebels are granted Spanish-American War pensions.
The insurrection actually lasted through 1913, but those soldiers who served in the years 1902–13
are deprived of Spanish-American War pensions because President Roosevelt declared the insurrection ended on July 4, 1902. Despite his declaration, Moro Province and the islands of Samar and Leyte, remained rebel strongholds for over 10 years.
From 1902 to 1914 no less than 105 major battles were fought in the province and nearby islands. Over 1,500 Americans died of their wounds or disease; many others were wounded. Fifteen soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Moro campaign.
Yet, with all their suffering and bravery, Moro veterans are still deprived of wartime pension benefits. Only a technicality-a premature declaration ending the insurrection-stands between these former soldiers and their rightful claims.
Congress once attempted to change the dates of the insurrection. In a bill passed by both Houses during the 78th Congress, the termination date of hostilities was extended to December 31, 1913. President Roosevelt objected to congressional alteration of an Executive declaration and vetoed the bill.
In many sessions since then Congress has tried to pass remedial legislation. The House has three times passed a bill extending Spanish-American War benefits to Moro War veterans without changing the official dates of the insurrection. Each time the Senate has failed to concur.
Congress now has one of its last opportunities to pass this legislation. The number of living veterans of the Moro War is declining rapidly. The latest available Veterans' Administration estimate of their number barely exceeds 100. Their average age is 89. The cost this legislation will be minimal.
In the past, bills similar to H.R. 13596 have enjoyed bipartisan support. Both Republicans and Democrats alike are impressed by the great injustice done to this small group of gallant American soldiers. It is my most earnest hope that such will be the case again this year and that this great inequity in our veterans legislation may be undone.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding hearings on this legislation. I hope the committee will be able to report the bill so Congress may express itself on this issue before adjournment.
Mr. DORN. Thank you, Mr. Schisler. Our next witness will be Congressman Billie S. Farnum, of Michigan. You may proceed, sir.
STATEMENT BY HON. BILLIE S. FARNUM, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MICHIGAN
Mr. FARNUM. Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the committee for allowing me to make a brief statement concerning a bill I have introduced, H.R. 11886, to amend the laws relating to pensions for veterans and their survivors.
A number of amendments to liberalize and improve the pension laws were enacted in 1964 under Public Law 88-664. Other defi
ciencies and injustices in these laws, however, remain in need of correction. The bill I am proposing would make several important corrections in this area of veterans' legislation, particularly with respect to the types of income that are included in applying the income limitations of the pension laws.
The bill provides, first, that the retirement income of a pensioner shall be excluded in computing his income for the purposes of the income limitations of the pension laws. This means that income received from social security, civil service retirement or a private pension plan could not, as it now may, be used to reduce the amount of a veteran's pension or to completely disqualify him from receiving a pension.
The enactment of this provision would eliminate the possibility of another anomalous situation from arising such as arose last year when the enactment of a cash benefit increase by the Social Security Amendments of 1965 resulted in some 27,000 veterans and veterans' widows having their VA pensions reduced or canceled.
Under existing law, 10 percent of a pensioner's retirement income is disregarded in determining his pension. This makes very little sense and adds complexity to the law. I believe that a total exclusion of such income should be enacted.
I am aware that the Senate has passed H.R. 14347 with committee amendment to eliminate the 1965 social security increase and future increases as a determining factor in the amount of pension a veteran may receive. But does this take care of the situation when private, railroad retirement, or civil service retirement pensions increase their benefits? The enactment of my bill excluding retirement altogether would eliminate the possibility of such a similar situation from recurring.
The second amendment contained in the bill is intended to add simplicity and uniformity to provisions of the pension laws that are now overly complex and discriminatory. This amendment would allow the entire income of a veteran's spouse to be disregarded in determining his income. Under existing law there are two pension programs in operation. One of these is for those who were on the pension rolls prior to July 1, 1960. The other pension system, established by Public Law 86-211, is for those whose pensions were initiated since that date. Pensioners under the old pension system may elect, if they so wish, to come under the new system. The rules that apply with regard to the income of a spouse are different under the two systems. All of such income is disregarded for those under the old system, while under the new system the law provides for the exclusion of all of the spouse's earned income, or $1,200 of her other income, whichever is the greater. This change in the bill would merely apply the same rule--the one that now applies to those under the old system-to all pensioners. This is not a great change in terms of dollars and cents, but it would improve the law by ridding it of its present confusing provisions.
The third section of the bill would similarly provide uniform treatment for those under the two pension systems. It would eliminate the "net worth” test which applies to pensioners under the new system but not to those under the older system. This test allows the VA to consider the total assets of a pensioner, not merely his income, in determining his eligibility for, or the amount of, his pension. The present "net worth” test should be abolished because it tends to penalize veterans who have had the foresight and initiative to provide some savings or a home for themselves and favors those who have not.
The last section of the bill eliminates a provision of the law that requires a veteran's pension to be reduced while he is a patient in a VA hospital. This is another provision that applies only to those under the new pension system. As with the two changes preceding it, this amendment would merely apply the same rule that now applies under the old pension system to all pensioners.
Mr. Chairman, the veterans' pension rolls are made up predominantly of aged veterans and their widows. Monthly pension payments are small in relation to today's living costs, ranging from $43 to $100 a month for a veteran with no dependents and from $27 to $64 a month for a veteran's widow. These payments are circrimscribed by stringent income limitations. The bill I am offering would grant a moderate amount of relief to those in need of pension assistance. I do not think it is too much to ask for them.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Congressman Farnum. The next witness will be Congressman Dyal of California. You may proceed, Mr. Dyal.
STATEMENT BY HON. KEN W. DYAL, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Mr. Dyal. Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure to make a statement before your committee on the subject of pensions and my bill, H.R. 6075. Veterans and their widows now on the pension rolls are finding it
very difficult to maintain a reasonable standard of living and because income limitations have been established far below the accepted poverty figure status, I feel our service-connected veterans, their widows, and certain other dependents are entitled to this increase in their pension. I am familiar with the problems of the widows and dependents due to the high percentage of these folks settling in my county due to the favorable climate and living conditions. This is the reason I am expressing my concern.
Because of the unselfishness of our veterans, our Nation has remained free; let us not place these men, their widows, and dependents in a poverty status.
Mr. Dorn. Thank you, Mr. Dyal. The next witness will be Congressman Joe Skubitz. You may proceed, Mr. Skubitz.
STATEMENT BY HON. JOE SKUBITZ, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF KANSAS
Mr. SKUBITZ, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to appear today in support of H.R. 11996, a bill I introduced on January 12 of this year to liberalize the veterans' pension program and H.R. 13499, introduced by Congressman Haley to eliminate income as a factor in determining pension entitlement in the case of veterans who are at least 72 years
age. My bill, if enacted into law, will permit any veteran or widow who is in receipt of retirement income from the Federal Government to waive all or any portion of that retirement income for the purpose of establishing eligibility for pension or qualifying for a higher rate of pension. Retirement pay thus waived, according to the provisions of the bill, shall not be counted as income for pension purposes.
I am certain that members of this committee have received, as I have, tremendous amounts of mail attesting to the unfortunate results of last year's modest social security increase upon the pensions of thousands of veterans and widows. I received correspondence pointing out case after case of pensioners who had received a slight increase in monthly social security payments only to learn that this placed them in a higher income bracket for veterans' pension purposes. Consequently, monthly pension payments were either greatly reduced or terminated. Had the provisions of my bill, H.R. 11996, been a part of the law at that time, there would have been no problem. A veteran or widow anticipating the adverse effect the social security increase would have upon their veterans' pension, could have filed a written waiver with the Social Security Administration in which he waived the increase. Thus, his income for pension purposes would have remained the same and he would have continued to receive the same rate of pension.
The problem created by the recent social security increase, Mr. Chairman, does not represent a one-time problem. Every time in the future that the Congress in its wisdom decides to grant a modest increase to recipients of social security, railroad retirement, civil service retirement, or any other Government-administered retirement program, there will be a certain percentage of veterans and widows who will be adversely affected by such an increase. I do not believe it has ever been or ever will be the intent of Congress to grant an increase in one Government benefit that will have the effect of reducing another Government benefit to an even greater degree. Certainly, in the current atmosphere of rising costs and decreasing dollar value, persons living on fixed retirement income have enough financial problems without having the actions of the Federal Government adding to their financial burden.
I believe it is essential that the Congress authorize a procedure that would permit these veterans and widows to decline an increase in one Federal benefit when it would adversely affect their receipt of another Federal benefit. H.R. 11996 will accomplish this worthy purpose and I respectfully urge that this committee report the bill.
I am impressed, also, Mr. Chairman, with the provisions of H.R. 13499, introduced by the gentleman from Florida, Mr. Haley. This bill will exclude from consideration as income for the purpose of determining eligibility for pension, all payments of any kind or from any source, including salary, retirement or annuity payments, endowments or similar income, which a veteran receives or is entitled to receive after attaining age 72. As members of this committee are undoubtedly aware, income is no longer a factor in determining a person's entitlement to social security benefits after age 72. Aside from the fact that these two Government-sponsored programs should be consistent, the sacrifices made by these aging warriors on the field of battle many years ago make it imperative that we treat them now, in their declining years, at least as generously insofar as income requirements as we do social security recipients. I believe that sound logic and compassion dictate that we provide this additional measure of security to these veterans in their declining years. I therefore recommend favorable action on H.R. 13499.