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Witness Testimony of Mr. Eric A. Hilleman, National Legislative Service, Deputy Director, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States

MR CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

Thank you for allowing the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) to present our views on the legislation pending before this subcommittee.

H.R. 674:  This bill would repeal the scheduled sunset date of December 31, 2009 for the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans.   

We support this legislation.  The Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans conducts site visits and meetings with VA officials, formulating opinions and recommendations, which serve minority veterans.  Their input helps to improve access to care and further enhances VA’s service provided to minority veterans.  The VFW strongly supports its reauthorization.

H.R.1273, Restoration of Plot Allowance Eligibility for Veterans

We support S. 1273.  This bill would make the $300 plot allowance available to service-connected disabled veterans or period-of-war veterans.  It also grants the authority to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reimburse the deceased veteran’s family for a non-government headstone or marker in lieu of furnishing a government marker.  Current law does not allow for the reimbursement of private markers in lieu of a government-furnished marker. 

VFW has long supported legislation that will increase the burial plot allowance, as recent increases have not keep pace with the cost of final burial arrangements for those who honorably served our nation.  As co-author of the Independent Budget (IB), we have strongly advocated increasing the burial plot allowance.  We would like to see the amount closer to the IB recommendation of $745, which would cover more of the costs associated with opening the grave.  

H.R. 1900: Extends the eligibility for veterans’ pension benefits to veterans who receive an expeditionary medal for a period of military service other than a period of war. 

The VFW fully supports the addition of this language to Chapter 15, U.S.C. Title 38.  This bill would add to the definition of what entitles a veteran to pension for non-service-connected disability, death and/or for service.  It would expand eligibility from veterans serving in a defined “period of war” to all veterans with an expeditionary service medal. 

This change in the law would keep pace with the changing nature of use of the military force and warfare in past conflicts and military actions such as our nation’s military involvement in Somalia from 1992 to 1993, Bosnia from 1992 to 2002, and current operations in the Horn of Africa from 2002 to present.  Under current law, these service members and their families do not receive benefits that aid families during great periods stress.

H.R. 1901: A bill to extend eligibility for pension benefits under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to veterans who served during certain periods in specified locations. 

The VFW supports this legislation to extend pension benefits to service members that have risked life and limb in the Korean peninsula, Lebanon, and Granada.  These groups of veterans are ineligible for pension benefits available to veterans that served during dates prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.  We urge passage of this legislation and ask that the Congress consider other groups of veterans that have served at considerable risk to life and limb, such as service in Somalia in 1992 to 1993 and U.S. military operations in the Balkans from the 1990s to present. 

H.R. 2346 would direct the VA Secretary to establish a process for determining whether a geographic area is sufficiently served by the national cemeteries located in that geographic area.

The work envisioned under H.R. 2346 is already being accomplished by the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) under P.L.106-117 and P.L.108-109.  The NCA is required to report annually to Congress on the establishment of additional national cemeteries.  A strategic plan is formulated, surveying areas determined to be appropriate for new national cemeteries.  The site selection process takes into account population centers and the travel distance between area cemeteries, weighs the views of state and local veterans’ organizations, and solicits others the Secretary considers knowledgeable in these matters.  We believe that the current process sufficiently addresses the needs of veterans and their families; and as such, we view this legislation as duplicative of efforts already properly performed by the National Cemetery Administration.

H.R. 2696,Veterans' Dignified Burial Assistance Act of 2007'

VFW supports HR 2696.Current law allows a veteran who is not buried in a national cemetery, a plot allowance of up to $300.  H.R. 2696 increases the plot allowance to $400.  VFW has long supported legislation that will provide an increase in the burial plot allowance, as recent increases have not kept pace with the cost of purchasing a final resting place for those who have honorably served our nation. As co-author of the Independent Budget (IB), we have strongly advocated increasing the burial plot allowance. We believe moving the amount closer to the IB recommendation of $745 would better serve veterans and their families to settle the affairs of a departed loved one.

This legislation also includes a provision to abolish grant-filing deadlines for Veterans State Cemeteries.  The VFW has no position on this provision. 

H.R. 2697: VFW supports HR 2697, legislation to expand eligibility for veterans’ mortgage life insurance (VMLI) to include members of the Armed Forces receiving specially adapted housing assistance from VA.

Current law allows those medically retired service members to receive VA specially adapted housing benefits before leaving service but does not provide the same eligibility under the VA insurance program. This legislation closes that gap and allows those who may have difficulty getting commercial insurance the opportunity to receive reasonable coverage under VMLI.