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Witness Testimony of Mr. Jim King, American Veterans (AMVETS), Executive Director

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to offer testimony on behalf of American Veterans (AMVETS) regarding pending benefits legislation before this Subcommittee.  AMVETS appreciates the Subcommittee’s work to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs can fulfill its obligation to provide benefits and services to veterans and/or their survivors.

H.R. 585 would expand the number of individuals qualifying for retroactive benefits from traumatic brain injury coverage under the Service Group Life Insurance program.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) program is designed to provide added financial protection with payments that range from $25,000 to $100,000, to servicemembers who have suffered certain traumatic injuries while on active duty.  Although the insurance program started December 1, 2005, benefits are payable retroactively to October 7, 2001, for servicemembers and veterans who suffered certain traumatic injuries while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mr. Chairman, the purpose and intent of any insurance program is to provide some type of financial security for either an individual or surviving family members in the event of injury, disability or death. When and where deaths or injuries occur are usually not an impediment to the distribution of benefits.  Service personnel are on duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  Equally important, service personnel serve where they are directed to serve and are not given a choice on how or when they will serve.  AMVETS believes that the guiding principals and purpose that governs Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance of providing full coverage regardless of duty location should also be used as the basis for administering the TSGLI program.  AMVETS supports this legislation.

H.R. 156 would provide survivor benefits to family members of all servicemembers who were held as prisoners of war and whose death is viewed in the same manner as a service-connected death as outlined in section 1318(b) title 38 U.S.C., and were rated totally disabled for a period of no less than one year prior to their death.

Mr. Chairman, this legislation would provide survivor benefits to family members of Prisoners of War who become rated 100% disabled for one year prior to death. This legislation removes an arbitrary date, allowing approximately 850 families to receive benefits they were previously denied. AMVETS supports this legislation.

H.R. 704 would reduce the age from 57 to 55 when a surviving spouse of a deceased veteran can remarry and not lose their dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC).

Mr. Chairman, AMVETS supports this legislation. AMVETS believes DIC should not be viewed only as a source of income to replace the wage that was being provided by the servicemember. DIC is a compensation for a loss that was suffered by the survivors, and should continue to be paid regardless of the marital status of the surviving spouse.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.