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Submission For The Record of Mr. Eric A. Hilleman, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.4 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for your invitation to testify at today’s important hearing on veterans’ benefits legislation.

H.R. 585, a bill to expand the number of individuals qualifying for retroactive benefits from traumatic injury protection coverage under Service Members Group Life Insurance

The VFW strongly supports H.R. 585.  From inception the VFW has supported the Wounded Warrior Bill as a way to provide immediate financial assistance for severely injured service members and their families. This legislation would provide those not included in the original legislation a chance to receive equal payment for their serious injuries by allowing all injured service members who served between October 7, 2001 and December 1, 2005 to be eligible for TSGLI payments regardless of where their injuries occurred.  We applaud this change and agree that all injured service members, those inside and outside the combat theatre, should be treated equally when it comes to benefits afforded them. 

H.R. 704 and H.R. 156 would expand the inclusion of dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) to include more deserving widows and addresses some of the inequities surrounding DIC. We fully support these proposals. 

HR 704,  would amend title 38, U.S.C., to reduce from age 57 to 55 the age after which the remarriage of the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran shall not result in termination of dependency and indemnity compensation otherwise payable to that surviving spouse. No other federally funded survivorship program including Civil Service, Social Security and Congress’ own program makes a distinction between unmarried and remarried surviving spouses.  DIC was created to replace family income loss due to the service member or veteran’s death and to serve as compensation for his or her death.  Our nation has made a promise to our veterans that their families will be taken care of should they die for our country, or from a disability related to their service.

In 2003, Congress passed a law that allows survivors who remarry after age 57 to continue to receive DIC, but this was not enough.

We are pleased to see that H.R. 704 lowers the age at which a remarried spouse may continue to receive DIC to 55.  This change brings the benefit in line with the remarriage requirements of similar federal programs.  We fully support this change. 

The VFW strongly supports H.R. 156.  Current law awards DIC benefits to those survivors of former POWs who were continuously rated totally disabled for at least one year prior to death and who died after September 30, 1999.  Enacting H.R. 156 would expand eligibility to include those survivors of POWs who died before September 30, 1999.

The number of former POWs that remain alive since the end of World War II is less than 30,000 and a number of these veterans are leaving us everyday. We believe that those POWs from conflicts prior to 1999 suffered the same as those who came afterward, and providing a small measure of financial relief to their survivors is the right thing to do. 

Thank you for this opportunity to present our views before the subcommittee.