Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Submission For The Record of Paralyzed Veterans of America
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), we would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record regarding the proposed legislation. We appreciate the fact that you continue to address the broadest range of issues with the intention of improving benefits for veterans. We particularly support any focus placed on meeting the complex needs of the newest generation of veterans, even as we continue to improve services for those who have served in the past.
PVA members represent one of the segments of the veteran population that benefit most from the many ancillary benefits provided by VA. Without the provision of benefits such as Special Monthly Compensation (SMC), our members, and other severely disabled veterans, would experience a much lower quality of life and would in many cases be unable to live independently.
H.R. 811, the “Providing Military Honors for our Nation’s Heroes Act”
PVA does not oppose H.R. 811, the “Providing Military Honors for our Nation’s Heroes Act”. This legislation would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reimburse a member of a veterans’ service organization or other organization approved by the Secretary for transportation expenses incurred while volunteering services during funeral honors detailed to a veteran and funeral honors requested by a funeral home.
This bill would also authorize volunteers from veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) and other organizations to be reimbursed for expenses associated with travel and uniform cleaning. Current law does not reimburse members of the VSOs for service without having military representation. This simply means that VSOs and other volunteers can assist the military by providing color guard details and be reimbursed for expenses incurred. While PVA has no resolution from our membership, we do not oppose this legislation.
H.R. 1407, the “Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011”
PVA supports H.R. 1407, the “Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living (COLA) Adjustment Act of 2011,” that would increase, effective as of December 1, 2011, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for the survivors of certain disabled veterans. This would include increases in wartime disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, clothing allowance, and dependency and indemnity compensation for children. This legislation also includes language specific to rounding each dollar amount increased, if not a whole dollar amount, shall be rounded to the next lower whole dollar amount.
For the past two years, there has been no increase in compensation or DIC rates due to the Social Security index not increasing. While our economy has been in disorder, veterans personal finances has been affected by rising costs of essential necessities to live from day to day maintaining a certain standard of quality of life. PVA supports enactment of this legislation so our veterans receive COLA, this year but also urges Congress to enhance language to include an automatic annual COLA, compensation for non-work disability, and the loss of quality of life.
Mr. Chairman, PVA also urges Congress to consider the position of The Independent Budget (IB) to implement the recommendation made by the Dole-Shalala Commission, Institute of Medicine (IOM), and the Veterans Disability Commission (VDBC) to enhance disability compensation for non-work disability and the loss of quality of life. Specifically, non-work refers to the veterans limited ability to engage in normal functions and activities other than work such as social, physical, and psychological. This issue needs to be addressed so our nations veterans can be compensated from the impact on loss of quality of life.
PVA does not oppose H.R. 1441, legislation that would codify the prohibition against the reservation of gravesites prior to death at the Arlington National Cemetery. This bill would also prohibit multiple gravesites from being reserved for a servicemember or veteran who is eligible for interment, being one gravesite per family.
H.R. 1484, the “Veterans Appeals Improvement Act of 2011”
H.R. 1484, the “Veterans Appeals Improvement Act of 2011” seeks to improve the appeal process. Section 2 of the bill would allow a claimant to submit new evidence to support an appeal case that was previously filed, directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) and not to the claimants VA Regional Office. This legislation does allow for the claimant to request VA Regional Office consideration of the new evidence, if the claimant prefers.
PVA strongly supports approval of this legislation, which would be very beneficial to the veteran as well as the Board. It would allow a claimant to submit new or supplemental evidence directly to the Board instead of submitting it and requiring numerous other steps at a VA Regional Office. Submitting to a VA Regional Office is very time consuming and initiates long delays in the adjudication process.
While we support Section 2 of the bill, PVA does not support other sections as written. At this time we question whether the creation of another study is warranted or appropriate.
H.R. 1627, provides clarification on the requirements for placement of monuments in Arlington National Cemetery. This bill will clarify specific requirements related to the purpose and type of monument requested. In addition, the legislation outlines the requirements and authorization process in which sponsoring individuals or organizations put forth a request. While PVA does not have a position, we do not oppose this legislation.
H.R. 1647, the “Veterans Choice of Filing Act of 2011”
H.R. 1647, the “Veterans Choice of Filing Act of 2011,” directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program under which certain veterans may submit claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary to any regional office of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This particular pilot program would be authorized for 24 months and would allow the veteran who is served by a poor performing VA regional office the option to submit a claim for benefits to any regional office of their choosing. In the proposal, five regional offices would take part in the program.
PVA believes this legislation has very few specifics regarding the purpose of the program and implementation. It appears the bill is intended to gauge improvements of certain poor performing VA regional offices.
While PVA does not oppose this bill, we cannot support it at this time. We have been working with numerous VSOs and VBA to comprehensively improve and streamline the claims processing system. Currently, VBA has numerous pilot programs under way as well as a redesigning measure of the IT systems used to initiate the claims process. PVA believes while good measure is being taken, there is a possibility that by inserting another pilot program may interfere with VBA’s ability to manage their workload and achieve results.
PVA would like to work with the Subcommittee and other VSOs to better develop initiatives that address the current needs of our veterans while measures are being met in a performing claims processing system. It is important that VBA continues to enhance, develop, and deploy the VBMS program. The program we look forward to is one that will allow timeliness and quality to be met in one system. PVA as well as other VSOs want quality control programs to be a priority. PVA stands ready to assist in achieving these benchmarks.
H. Con. Res. 12
Finally, H. Con. Res. 12, would articulate the intent of Congress to honor the memory of the Jewish chaplains who have died while on active duty with the placement of a memorial marker on Chaplains Hill in Arlington National Cemetery. Currently, PVA does not have a position, but does not oppose this legislation.
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, PVA would once again like to thank you for the opportunity to provide our views on veterans’ legislation. We look forward to working with you to continue to improve these benefits for our veterans.