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Witness Testimony of Lori Perkio, Assistant Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission, The American Legion

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide The American Legion’s views on the legislation being considered before this subcommittee.

H.R. 2985 – Veteran’s ID Card Act

This legislation would provide authority to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide a Veteran ID Card.  As matters currently stand, a veteran generally will only have a government issued photo ID card if they either served an entire period of service greater than twenty years and have retired, or have certain types of medically related discharges.  With a growing number of goods, service and promotional activities available to veterans, it is not always easy to prove veteran status for those who have served, short of carrying around a copy of the Form DD-214 discharge papers.  The intent of the legislation would be to create cards for veterans which would clarify that status, in the absence of other ID cards.

The ID card would be a photo ID containing the veteran’s name and an indentifying number separate and distinct from a Social Security number.

The American Legion has no position on this legislation.

H.R. 3730 – Veterans’ Data Breach Timely Notification Act

This legislation directs standard notification procedures for VA in the event of a data breach where personal information of veterans may have been compromised.  The bill calls for prompt notification of affected parties within five business days, or an appropriate amount of time if longer is needed to determine the scope of veterans so affected.  The bill further calls for broad notification of the general public in addition to specific notification to affected veterans, as well as for the notification of the appropriate committees and subcommittees of Congress.

With the rising tide of identity theft and other cybercrimes, veterans have as many concerns about the security of their personal information as any other citizen.  While every measure must be taken to ensure the security and integrity of personal information entrusted to the government, equally as important is the need to deal with any potential breaches when they occur.  Often in such cases, the best thing to do is to proactively reach out to everyone affected and loudly and publically get the word out so the affected parties can act in their best interest.  Veterans must be able to respond to appropriate credit authorities or otherwise as soon as is humanly possible.

The American Legion agrees in the need for swift response to such breaches and potential threats to veterans’ personal identifying information.  In the past, such as in the case of the January 2009 data breach, The American Legion has applauded swift action in dealing with such incidents. 

The American Legion supports this legislation.

H.R. 4481 – Veterans Affairs Employee Accountability Act

This bill bars VA employees from receiving bonuses if “…during any year, [the employee] knowingly violates any civil law covered by the Federal Acquisition Regulation issued under section 1301(a)(1) of Title 41 or the Veterans Affairs Acquisition Regulation…”

The American Legion has previously been critical of bonuses given out by the VA to senior officials who by outward observation failed to meet basic performance measures, as VA’s numbers in the fight against the backlog slipped further and further beyond reach of recovery.  Certainly employees who are engaging in illegal practices should not be rewarded with bonuses.

Bonus pay, by its very definition should not be considered something automatic or guaranteed regardless of the positive or negative actions of the employee.  Bonus pay should be a reward for job performance superior to the average expectation, and the average expectation should certainly include operating within the bounds of laws and regulations.

The American Legion supports this legislation.

H.R. 5948 – Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012

In February of this year, The American Legion provided testimony for the record to this subcommittee addressing several concerns regarding the state of the VA fiduciary program.  Some of the concerns included the length of time necessary to conduct interviews with potential fiduciaries, the inability of veterans to offer input into the selection of their fiduciaries, the lack of redress available to veterans if unhappy with the performance of their fiduciaries, and other concerns.

In testimony in February, The American Legion expressed concern that since the establishment of the Western Fiduciary Hub in Salt Lake City, UT, the overall wait times for necessary follow up visits had ballooned to over 151 days.  New regulations make clear the shorter mandatory deadlines which should help reduce these lengthy wait times.  Legion testimony expressed concerns about the lack of redress available to veterans who have issues with their fiduciaries, and this legislation has both an appeals process for the initial appointment and there are guidelines for investigation of those fiduciaries who are believed to be misusing the funds of the beneficiaries.  Our testimony expressed concerns about the lack of input generally allowed to veterans to help select a family member who could be an appropriate financial custodian for them, and finally their input in this matter should now be addressed with procedures for veteran recommended fiduciaries.

The American Legion is grateful to this committee for their commitment to working with service organizations and the VA and interested parties to find areas for improvement in this program that affects some of our most vulnerable veterans.  It is hoped that this legislation, with attentive follow up and oversight, will lead to improvements in the operation of the fiduciary program for VA.  There are still areas of concern to be addressed, such as the poor chain of contact through the phone banks, and the sometimes great physical distances involved with fiduciaries located hundreds of miles from the beneficiaries they serve, but these are obstacles which can be overcome with continued work and attention to the process, and The American Legion is reassured to see the deep commitment of this committee to getting the job done right.

The American Legion supports this legislation.

The American Legion thanks this subcommittee again for the opportunity to come before you today to offer the views of our 2.4 million members on this slate of legislation affecting veterans.


SUMMARY OF POSITIONS OF THE AMERICAN LEGION ON LEGISLATION

BILL

AMERICAN LEGION POSITION

HR 2985 – VETERAN ID CARD

NO POSITION

HR 3730 – VETERANS DATA BREACH TIMELY NOTIFICATION

SUPPORTS

HR 4481 – VETERANS AFFAIRS EMPLOYEE ACCOUNTABILITY ACT

SUPPORTS

HR 5948 – VETERANS FIDUCIARY REFORM ACT OF 2012

SUPPORTS