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Witness Testimony of Mr. Robert H. Bertschy, Disabled American Veterans, Senior Vice Commander, Department of Ohio

On behalf of more than 41,000 members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and its Auxiliary in Ohio, I am honored to appear before you this morning to discuss the agenda and major concerns of our nation’s wartime disabled veterans and their families.

Herman Morton, DAV Department of Ohio Commander, sends his regrets that he could not attend this hearing due to another commitment.

Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Zach Space, I want to personally congratulate you for hosting this hearing and wanting to learn more about our veterans issues here in Ohio.

The Disabled American Veterans mission is service to veterans.

I am proud to report that our Ohio DAV Transportation Network has 43 DAV vans with 130 volunteer drivers transporting thousands of veterans to and from the VA Medical Center’s (VAMC’s) and Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC’s). There are 5 VAMC’s, 29 CBOC’s in Ohio VA VISN 10. Louis Stokes Cleveland VA has 2 VAMC’s, and 12 CBOC’s serving veterans.

VAMC

VOLUNTEER DRIVERS

VANS

Louis Stokes Cleveland 40 18
Chillicothe 40 15
Dayton  10 3
Columbus 11 4
Cincinnati 10 2

DAV volunteer drivers are all volunteers saving the VA thousands of dollars.  Ohio Veterans Service Commission County Offices has paid drivers that also transport veterans to and from the VAMC’s.

Although, there have been cases where veterans living in rural areas encounter difficulty in obtaining transportation on a timely basis. This has been more of a problem for such veterans getting to Cincinnati VAMC than others. It is not felt that lack of transportation is the REAL problem!!

We have a lot of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Are we prepared to help them? What good are all of these medical centers and clinics, volunteer drivers and vans if we aren’t getting the VA appropriations from Congress on a timely manner? Additional funds for hiring more doctors and nurses at the VA medical facilities are needed to improve the delays in providing timely clinic appointments for our veterans. Many veterans will have serious injuries requiring long-term care. Amputations, traumatic brain injuries, vision loss and mental health issues are only a few healthcare issues facing our veterans as well as the VA in providing services. Our veterans must not be forgotten for the sacrifices made in time of war. Their sacrifices and service to our great nation shall not be in vain? We need your commitment that Washington will not forget our veterans. Please make this commitment, a top priority, for their service.

At the Veterans’ joint meeting in Washington, D.C. in February, we asked the new senators and representatives to support “VA mandatory funding”. The 2008 Fiscal Year Budget comes close to providing adequate funding. It does not guarantee that VA funds will be available when needed since, even though it is in the budget, the majority of VA funds are subject to the legislative process throughout the fiscal year and is subject to the ravages of other funding constraints, “Mandatory Funding” will not cost more tax dollars and would prompt, timely and proper management of the VA budget and thus provide better, more timely care for our sick, wounded and disabled veterans. At the beginning of each fiscal year Mandatory funding will not force the VA to go into a shut-down fiscal mode until Congress figures it out. 

Also, we ask you to repeal the attorney fee provisions, Public Law 109-461. Ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs, Senator Larry Craig, inserted provisions in this bill to remove the bar against attorneys charging veterans a fee for filing a claim. Our DAV Service Officers are very well trained to assist veterans and their families in filing VA claims for benefits they have earned and we do it for free. It has been this way since the Civil War. Why fix it if it isn’t broke?

The Disabled American Veterans is a non partisan veterans’ service organization, but I personally feel that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should stop his negative attitude and accusations of defeat in Iraq. At a press conference on Capitol Hill, he claimed that “this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything.” He claims that the Iraqi War was a “failure.” What kind of message does this send to our soldiers, marines and sailors overseas? This is having a negative impact on our troops that are in harm’s way. In effect, statements of this type by our elected leaders gives “aid and comfort” to our enemies, serving to prolong the conflict and cause hardship and loss of lives of our brave soldiers.

If you look at all of the cars with signs, “Support Our Troops,” on them and then have our politicians say we are losing the war is shameful. He would have us quit on our troops, even though they haven’t quit on us or their mission in Iraq.

Be assured, DAV will continue supporting our veterans, their families and VA hospital programs. Again, DAV National Service Officers professional staff are the very best trained who are representing thousands of veterans filing VA claims for earned benefits and we do not charge for our services.

The VA must hire more judicators to process veterans’ claims for benefits they have earned and are not receiving them in a reasonable time. Especially for our WW II veterans..

Thank you for all that your veterans’ committees in Washington DC have done for our disabled veterans and for all you will do in the future. Thank you for allowing me to appear before you on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans, Department of Ohio. God Bless all of you, God Bless our American troops in harm’s way and God Bless the USA.