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Witness Testimony of Mr. Brian E. Lawrence, Disabled American Veterans, Assistant National Legislative Director

Madame Chair and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am happy to appear before you to present the views of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) on the various bills under consideration today. In accordance with its congressional charter, the DAV legislative mission is focused on benefits and services provided to veterans on account of their service-connected disabilities. We are therefore pleased to support the bills insofar as they fall within that scope. The DAV has no mandate from its membership on issues addressed within H.R.112, H.R. 513, H.R. 1240, H.R. 1598, H.R. 1632, H.R. 1750, H.R. 1824, H.R. 2475, and H.R. 2579, but we have no objection to their favorable consideration.

H.R. 675

The Disabled Veterans Adaptive Housing Improvement Act would amend Section 2101 of title 38, United States Code, to increase the specially adapted housing grant from $50,000 grant to $60,000, and increase the $10,000 grant to $12,000. Additionally, the bill would provide for automatic annual adjustments based on the national average increase in the cost of residential home construction. The purpose of this grant is to enable severely disabled veterans to construct, purchase, or remodel homes with structural features to accommodate special needs. The grant was last increased by Public Law 108-183, enacted December 16, 2003. Because the cost of construction has risen over the past four and a half years, the current $50,000 maximum amount is insufficient to allow severely disabled veterans to make all necessary adaptations and modifications.

During the most recent DAV National Convention, our members voted to again adopt a long standing resolution calling for legislation which would provide a realistic increase in the specially adapted housing grants, and would provide for automatic annual adjustments based on increases in the cost of living. Our resolution coincides with the recommendations of The Independent Budget (IB), which is a budget and policy document that sets forth the collective views of the DAV, AMVETS, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. Therefore, we urge that the proposals contained in H.R.675 be favorably acted upon by the Subcommittee.

H.R. 1315

This bill would amend section 2102A of title 38, United States Code, to provide specially adaptive housing grants to disabled members of the Armed Forces residing temporarily in housing owned by a family member. Public Law 108-454, enacted December 10, 2004, authorized VA to provide specially adapted housing grants of up to $10,000 to eligible disabled veterans residing temporarily in housing owned by a family member. H.R. 1315 extends eligibility to members of the Armed Forces.

The DAV supports this measure; however, we recommend that the amount used in the adaptation of the family member’s residence should be added to the aggregate amount to which the veteran is entitled. In most instances, severely disabled veterans residing with a family member will eventually seek to establish his or her own permanent residence. In such instances, the maximum amount should be available to the veteran regardless of whether he or she received a previous grant for the alteration of a family member’s home.

H. R. 1370

The Disabled Veterans Sports and Special Events Promotion Act of 2007 would establish a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, to carry out and promote programs for the participation of disabled veterans in approved sporting and other events. The bill would authorize VA to provide a monthly assistance allowance to service-connected disabled veterans participating in an event sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) or residing at a USOC training center. The amount of the monthly assistance would be equal to the monthly amount of subsistence allowance that would be payable to the veteran under chapter 31 of title 38, United States Code. The bill would require VA to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the USOC under which the VA would provide support and reimbursement for USOC expenditures for the military paralympic program. Additionally, the bill would authorize an appropriation of $2 million each fiscal year to carry out the activities of the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events.  

The VA, along with the DAV and several other veterans’ service organizations as co-sponsors, hosts annual national rehabilitative special event programs for veterans receiving health care from VA medical facilities. These four programs, which include the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, National Veterans Wheelchair Games, National Veterans Golden Age Games, and the National Creative Arts Festival, focus on rehabilitation and enhancement of the physical, social, and emotional well-being of many severely disabled veterans. These programs showcase the therapeutic value of sports, fitness, and recreation, which are key factors in VA’s extensive rehabilitation programs, and are profoundly beneficial in helping veterans overcome or mitigate the physical and emotional impact of severe disabilities.

In addition to supporting rehabilitative events through co-sponsorship, the membership of the DAV has adopted a resolution calling on Congress to provide a separate line-item appropriation in the VA budget to ensure the continuance of these worthy programs. Therefore, we are pleased with the comparative intent of this legislation. Adequate resources designated specifically for the special events office would eliminate the VA’s need to raise funds and allow it to focus exclusively on rehabilitation and therapy for disabled veterans. The responsibility for raising additional funds can and should be left to the co-sponsors.

Along with our support of this draft bill, we encourage the Subcommittee to include language to place the special events office under the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA). Currently, the programs are under the authority of the VA Office of Public Affairs and the VHA is almost completely removed from administrative decisions. Though the Public Affairs Office certainly has a role to play, the ultimate purpose of these special events is to provide rehabilitative therapy to severely disabled veterans. Since VHA is the department responsible for providing such care, it should be the designated controlling authority for the four rehabilitative programs mentioned above. As the administrative authority, the VHA should be required to develop a comprehensive MOU with co-sponsors, and to provide detailed accountability for all special events office funds, including co-sponsorship fees. Without such financial support from the DAV and other co-sponsors, substantially fewer disabled veterans would benefit from these uplifting special events. Therefore, co-sponsors should be allowed at least some level of input regarding the programs.

The DAV applauds the Subcommittee for recognizing the value and importance of National Disabled Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, and for having the foresight to ensure they are available to severely disabled veterans in the future. The DAV supports this commendable bill and hopes the Subcommittee will consider our suggestions for improvement.

H.R. 2259 

This bill would ensure that members of the National Guard and Reserves are able to fully participate in the benefits delivery at discharge (BDD) program administered jointly by the Department of Defense and the VA to provide information and assistance on available benefits and other transition assistance to members of the Armed Forces who are separating from the Armed Forces. BDD improves service for separating service members by eliminating lengthy delays in claims decisions and redundant and unnecessary physical examinations. BDD takes pressure off overly burdened VA Regional Offices that already face backlog problems. Rating decisions adjudicated via the BDD program are generally more accurate and appealed less frequently than those processed via regular claims procedures. The DAV strongly recommends that BDD be expanded and made available to every person retiring or separating from active duty.

Madame Chair and Members of the Subcommittee, the DAV appreciates the opportunity to present our views on these bills. We look forward to our continued work with the Subcommittee to serve our nation’s disabled veterans and their families.