Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Ms. Meredith Beck, Wounded Warrior Project, National Policy Director
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Meredith Beck, and I am the National Policy Director for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to assisting the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have been severely injured during the war on terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. Beginning at the bedside of the severely wounded, WWP provides programs and services designed to ease the burdens of these heroes and their families, aid in the recovery process and smooth the transition back to civilian life. We strive to fill the vital need for a coordinated, united effort to enable wounded veterans to aid and assist each other and to readjust to civilian life. As a result of our direct, daily contact with these wounded warriors, we have gained a unique perspective on their needs and the obstacles they face as they attempt to reintegrate into their respective communities.
I would like to specifically address, HR 585, introduced by Representative Herseth to expand the number of individuals qualifying for retroactive benefits under the Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (TSGLI). One of our finest achievements as an organization was the role we played in the creation of this insurance program which pays up to $100,000 to severely wounded servicemembers for immediate expenses following their injury. WWP is still amazed by the speed with which this legislation was introduced and passed and we are especially pleased that the program has paid over $200 million to injured servicemembers, with an average payment of $67,000 per individual.
Once the original legislation was enacted creating this program, the lion’s share of the work done on developing and implementing this program was by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Servicemember Group Life Insurance as well as by the Department of Defense and the contact and claims certifying officials from the individual Service branches. WWP cannot speak highly enough of all the time and effort that has gone into creating this program, and I would like to publicly thank all of the involved agencies on behalf of the severely injured servicemembers and their families who, in their time of greatest need, have had many of their financial fears allayed as a result of these insurance payments. This program has in most cases become the intended financial bridge from the time of injury until the warrior is eligible for VA benefits.
While WWP is very pleased with the overall implementation of the TSGLI program, H.R.585, would correct one major inequity. As currently written, the regulation dictates that those injured after December 1, 2005 are covered regardless of where their injuries occurred. In order for a retroactive injury to be covered, however, it must have been incurred, “in Operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom”. It then defines “in Operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom” to mean that the servicemember must have been injured while deployed, “outside the United States on orders in support of Operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedoms or served in a geographic location that qualified the servicemember for the combat zone Tax Exclusion under 26 U.S.C. 211.”
By defining “in Operations Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom” as such, the regulation has disqualified a number of traumatically injured servicemembers from payment based solely on their location at the time their injury was incurred. WWP believes that the same criteria that apply to prospective injuries should apply to retroactive injuries to October 7, 2001. It is inequitable to deny retroactive payments to those who have suffered the same grievous injuries based solely on the location where the traumatic event took place.
Without corrective action, brave men and women who were traumatically injured after October 7, 2001, but before December 1, 2005, will continue to be denied the same retroactive payment given to their wounded comrades even though the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance for which TSGLI is a rider was made retroactive--brave men and women like Navy Seal Toshiro Carrington who was injured in a training accident at Camp Pendleton on December 15, 2004. He was holding a charge in his left hand when another servicemember accidentally detonated it. SO 1 Carrington was left with a traumatically severed left hand, a severed right tip of his thumb and his remaining fingers all fractured. Unfortunately, Toshiro’s severe injuries did not qualify him for a payment under TSGLI due to the date on which the accident occurred. Another servicemember, Seaman Robert Roeder, was injured on January 29, 2005 when an arresting wire on the aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, severed his left leg below the knee. Seaman Roeder was on his way to the Gulf of Arabia when his injury occurred during flight training operations. Although the ship was on its way to the Gulf and the training exercises being conducted were in preparation for action in either Operation Enduring or Iraqi Freedom, Robert’s injury does not qualify for payment under the law as written. Robert was hospitalized at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas for over a year and his recovery and rehabilitation has been just as strenuous and arduous as it would have been had his ship made it to the Gulf of Arabia prior to his injury.
SO 1 Carrington and Seaman Roeder are not the only wounded servicemembers being impacted by this inequity in the regulation. Therefore, we applaud Senators Akaka and Craig for their recognition of this inequity and strongly urge Congress to quickly act on S.225 so that Seaman Roeder, SO 1 Carrington, and other wounded warriors like them will not be deprived of this vitally important insurance program.
Again, WWP is very pleased with the overall implementation of the TSGLI program and is very grateful for all of the hard work that has gone into making this program a reality. I cannot overstate how many people and families have benefited from this insurance at a time in their lives when they needed all the assistance they could get. The Wounded Warrior Project is honored to have played a role in its creation and I thank you again for giving us this opportunity to testify.