Witness Testimony of Hon. Nick J. Rahall II, a Representative in Congress from the State of West Virginia
Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborn and Members of the Subcommittee, I thank you for the work you have done in recent months to honor our brave men and women in uniform. I also thank you for your courtesy in allowing me to testify before the Subcommittee today on two bills I have offered that would extend the benefits offered to our nation’s veterans.
Mr. Chairman, for centuries, we have witnessed the personal courage and sacrifice made by millions of Americans who have served our country. They have done so proudly and without hesitation, to protect our freedoms and our way of life, and to help ensure peace in various regions worldwide. These individuals represent the best of America, and I believe it is imperative that the United States Congress do everything in its power to honor them when they return home from service.
Too often, when these young men and women return, we do not always honor their bravery with the full measure of respect and gratitude that it deserves. I believe we should take this opportunity to help ensure that our veterans, regardless of the timeframe of their service, receive appropriate recognition and benefits.
Under current law, veterans may only meet eligibility requirements to draw a full pension if they have served in combat during a declared period of war. While this method was sufficient for the majority of veterans who served in America’s 20th century engagements, America’s evolving role in conflicts abroad has necessitated the expansion and adaptation of our veterans benefits programs, including those pertaining to pensions.
I believe this Subcommittee would agree that the veterans who put their lives on the line and suffer losses during undeclared times of conflict are no less admirable or deserving of thanks than are those who serve in declared conflicts.
My first bill, H.R. 1900, would extend eligibility for pension benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans who have received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. This medal was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to recognize the service of American veterans in light of the United States’ expanding involvement in conflicts outside the scope of a “period of war.” This medal is still awarded today to those men and women who have served in hostile regions, but not all of these courageous veterans receive full benefits.
My second bill, H.R. 1901, would provide the guarantee of a pension to veterans who served in Korea, Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama. The bill specifically extends benefits to the following:
- Veterans who served in Korea from February 1, 1955, through August 4, 1964, and from May 8, 1975, through 1990.
- Veterans who served in Lebanon and Grenada from August 24, 1982 through July 31, 1984.
- Veterans who served in Panama from December 20, 1989, through January 31, 1990,
This bill would benefit 27,000 veterans who facilitated the overthrow of General Manuel Noriega in Panama, as well those who served during the conflict in Lebanon, in 1983, where America lost 241 Marines to a suicide attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Though these soldiers, and those who served during the additional conflicts covered by this bill, were clearly at risk, they are currently not eligible to receive veteran’s pensions. Nonetheless, in these cases, danger was faced, bravery was shown, and American lives were lost.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that these bills more closely align the sacrifices made by these men and women with the compensation they deserve. As President Ronald Reagan, in his remarks to the nation on the conflict in Lebanon and Grenada stated, “They gave their lives in defense of our national security every bit as much as any man who ever died fighting in a war.” These sentiments apply to every man and woman who has stood in harm’s way for the protection of our freedom. It is time that the United States Congress recognized this fact and extended pension benefits to those veterans who have exemplified the courage and bravery of service in our Armed Forces.
Again, I thank you Mr. Chairman, for affording me this courtesy, and I look forward to working with you and the Subcommittee to appropriately honor our veterans.