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Opening Statement of Hon. John J. Hall, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of New York

I would first like to thank all of the witnesses for their testimonies on these three non-controversial but critical bills.

I want to thank Mr. Holden for appearing before our Subcommittee to present testimony on his bill, H.R. 156, which would change the date of eligibility for Disability and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments to survivors of former POWs to include those POWs that died before September 30, 1999.  Current DIC payments for POWs only cover those qualifying POWs that die after September 30, 1999.  This bill would correct this inexplicable inequity.  I am proud to have one of my constituents from New York-19, here today, Mr. Norman Bussel, past president of the American Ex-Prisoners of War Service Foundation, to testify in support of this legislation. 

Welcome, Mr. Bussel. Thank you again for being here to offer your insight as a former-POW and thank you for your service to our country.

As with all mandatory spending we will have to find the offsets to pay for this change in order to comply with PAYGO Rules adopted in the beginning of this Congress.  However, as the number of qualifying spouses has dwindled, I pray that we will be able to work in a bipartisan manner to find the funding to help this small population of mostly widows.

We will also receive testimony on a bill sponsored by Mr. Bilirakis that would affect the DIC, H.R. 704.  His bill would change the age of remarriage for surviving spouses from age 57 to 55.  Currently, if a surviving spouse remarries before age 57, the DIC payments cease automatically.  This is a harsh result for surviving spouses who have sacrificed and lost so much as a mate to these veterans.  As Mr. Bilirakis will surely point out, changing the age from 57 to 55 will also bring this provision in line with several other federal survivors programs, particularly the Military Survivor Benefit Plan. 

I know this bill enjoys wide support and I certainly support its concept of allowing love to flourish for these survivors in their later years without penalty even earlier.

Lastly, we will consider H.R. 585, sponsored by Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin, Chair of the Economic Opportunities Subcommittee, which would change the retroactive provisions of the Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance program (TSGLI) to allow those servicemembers injured outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005, to qualify for coverage.  Currently only those who physically served in these combat areas qualified.   Since December 1, 2005, all servicemembers who participate in the SGLI program are automatically covered with TSGLI no matter where they physically serve and thus no fix is needed for these servicemembers at this time.

The TSGLI program is intended to provide short-term help to the families of severely injured servicemembers to help with expenses incurred in helping them and their families recover from their injuries.  In my own state of New York, 118 servicemembers have benefited from this program and the average payment is $61,229.  In Colorado, 112 servicemembers received payment which averaged $58,482.

To date the total number of TSGLI cases paid is 3,266 cases, totaling $206,235,000 million. The average pay-out is $63,158.  Surely many qualifying servicemembers and their families would benefit from this legislative fix and I wholeheartedly support it. 

During times of war, all servicemembers offer the same gift to our country, their selfless service in our armed forces to defend our nation.  Each of their lives is valuable and potentially at-risk no matter what the duty assignment.  This bill, by making this small but substantive change, would recognize that truth.

Lastly, I look forward to hearing the VA’s updated views on these bills.