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Opening Statement of Hon. Jerry McNerney, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Disablity Assistance and Memorial Affairs

The purpose of today’s hearing will be to explore the policy implications of five bills, H.R. 923, H.R. 1025, H.R. 1826, H.R. 1898 and H.R. 2349. 

The Pension Protection Act of 2011, H.R. 923, introduced by Mr. Alcee Hastings of Florida, would prohibit VA from counting casualty loss and pain and suffering payments as income for the purposes of determining eligibility for the non-service connected pension benefit.

I think this is a worthwhile bill that is on track from a policy perspective and I look forward to advancing it to the Full Committee.

The second bill on today’s agenda, H.R. 1025, sponsored by Mr. Walz, a hard-working Member of this Committee, would grant honorary veteran status to retired members of the Guard and Reserve who completed 20 years of service. 

I support this bill but understand the reservations concerning moving the envelope on what type of service accords veteran status as outlined in VA testimony and in that of some of the VSOs.

H.R. 1826, introduced by Mr. Bilirakis, would provide criminal penalties against any person who solicits, contracts for, charges, or receives any fee or compensation from a veteran for advice on how to file a benefits claim or the preparation, presentation, or prosecution of a claim before the date on which a notice of disagreement is filed in a proceeding on the claim. 

Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed so much and we must protect them from those bad actors looking to take advantage of the benefits they have earned and deserve. 

However, I have heard concerns that this bill may create unintended negative effects on veterans seeking help from available sources, as well as whether imposition of criminal provisions are necessary in light of current law and regulations or even realistically enforceable.

Next, H.R. 1898, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, sponsored by Mr. Denny Rehberg of Montana would require that a judicial authority adjudicate a veteran or other beneficiary in need of fiduciary assistance as mentally defective for the purposes of reporting to the DOJ National Instant Background Check System (NICS), instead of the current system which requires VA to report these individuals to NICS. 

The final piece of legislation, H.R. 2349, the Veterans’ Benefits Training Improvement Act, is your bill, Mr. Chairman which attempts to hold the VBA to greater testing and training requirements. 

I applaud your effort.  Nonetheless, I have concerns that its provisions may be duplicative or run counter to the law on testing, certification and training as established in P.L. 110-389.