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Opening Statement of Hon. Henry E. Brown, Jr., a Representative in Congress from the State of South Carolina

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for allowing me to testify before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairstoday on H.R 1137, which would increase the Medal of Honor special pension.  This bill, which I have worked on with my colleague Mr. Michaud and introduced in both the 109th and 110th Congress, seeks to further recognize the bravery and exceptional service of the recipients of the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States of America.  It is awarded “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force.”  Since its initial presentation to Private Jacob Parrott in 1863, 3,445 Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor. 

Today, there are 109 living Recipients of the Medal of Honor.  The average age of a living recipient is 74 and 47% of Recipients earned their Medals more than 50 years ago while serving in World War II and Korea.  The oldest living Recipient, John W. Finn is 98 years old.  He received his Medal for actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.  In addition to Mr. Finn, 34 other living Recipients are World War II Veterans. 

Sixty-one living Recipients of the Medal of Honor earned their Medals while serving in Vietnam, including my good friend General James Livingston. At this time I would like to thank General Livingston not only for his heroic service to our country during the Vietnam War, but also for his tireless work on behalf of America’s veterans in the years since.   

The most recent Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously on October 22, 2007 to Lieutenant Michael Murphy, a Navy SEAL recognized for his service in Afghanistan.  Lieutenant Murphy is the second Medal of Honor Recipient from the current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.  Marine Corporal Jason L. Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his action in Iraq in 2004. 

In recognition of their exceptional service, Medal of Honor recipients are entitled to a special pension, as first authorized by Congress in 1916.  Currently, the 109 living recipients receive an inflation-adjusted $1,000 per month.  In 2002, Congress increased the Medal of Honor pension, citing evidence that the majority of Medal of Honor recipients live solely on Social Security benefits, supplemented by the Medal of Honor pension.  Of specific note, many Recipients travel extensively to speak at commemorative and patriotic events, often at their own expense, presenting an additional financial strain for which the VA Committee in 2002 deemed these heroes ought to be compensated.   

My bill, HR 1137, would increase the base payment of the Medal of Honor special pension to $2,000 per month and extend the benefit to surviving spouses.  This benefit acts as a small token of appreciation for the selfless leadership, courageous actions, and extraordinary devotion to duty shown by Medal Recipients.