Witness Testimony of Raymond Kelley, Director of National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars
MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:
On behalf of the nearly 2 million men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify on today’s pending legislation.
H.R. 569, Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013:
Disabled veterans, their surviving spouses and children depend on their disability and dependency and indemnity compensation to bridge the gap of lost earnings and savings that the veteran’s disability has caused. Each year, veterans wait anxiously to find out if they will receive a cost-of-living adjustment. There is no automatic trigger that increases these forms of compensation for veterans and their dependents. Annually, veterans wait for a separate Act of Congress to provide the same adjustment that is automatic to Social Security beneficiaries.
The VFW supports this legislation that will bring parity to VA disability and survivor recipients’ compensation by providing a COLA beginning December 1, 2013, so long as VA disability, pension and survivor benefits continue to be calculated with the currently used Consumer Price Index – W and not change the calculations for these adjustments to the Chained – Consumer Price Index.
The VFW continues to oppose the “rounding down” of the increase. This is nothing more than a money-saving gimmick that comes at the expense of our veterans and their survivors.
H.R. 570, American Heroes COLA Act:
The VFW agrees with the intent of this bill, which would provide for an automatic trigger for COLA, eliminating the confusion and uncertainty the current process brings. However, with the concerted effort to change the index used to calculate COLA from the Consumer Price Index – W to Chained – Consumer Price Index, the VFW must oppose this bill in its current form. The VFW would provide support if this legislation was amended to provide for the automatic Social Security trigger, therein removing the Congressional step of passing a standalone bill, but maintain the current index to calculate the rate of COLA.
H.R. 602, Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act:
The VFW supports H.R. 602, which would provide a layer of protection for veterans who might be seeking or undergoing mental health care for service-related psychological disorders from losing their Second Amendment right. Adding a provision that will require a finding through the legal system that the veteran’s condition causes a danger to him or herself or others will prevent a veteran’s name from being automatically added to federal no-sell lists.
H.R 671, Ruth Moore Act of 2013:
The VFW strongly supports this legislation and believes that it is long overdue. “The Ruth Moore Act of 2013” would relax evidentiary standards for tying mental health conditions to an assault, making it easier for Military Sexual Assault (MST) survivors to receive VA benefits.
Current regulations put a disproportionate burden on the veteran to produce evidence of MST – often years after the event and in an environment which is often unfriendly - in order to prove service-connection for mental health disorders.
With the extraordinarily high incidence of sexual trauma in the military and the failure of many victims to report the trauma to medical or police authorities, it is time Congress amends this restrictive standard. This legislation does that by providing equity to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health diagnoses that are often related to MST. It puts MST in line with VA’s standard of proof provided to combat veterans who suffer PTSD. Passage of this bill will allow those who have suffered from sexual violence in the military to get the care and benefits they deserve. The VFW urges Congress to pass this legislation quickly.
H.R. 679, Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act:
The VFW strongly supports this legislation, which would give the men and women who choose to serve our nation in the Reserve component the recognition that their service demands. Many who serve in the Guard and Reserve are in positions that support the deployments of their active duty comrades to make sure the unit is fully prepared when called upon. Unfortunately, some of these men and women serve at least 20 years and are entitled to retirement pay, TRICARE, and other benefits, but are not considered a veteran according to the letter of the law. Passing this bill into law will grant these Guard and reserve retirees the recognition their service to our country deserves.
H.R. 733, Access to Veterans Benefits Improvement Act:
The VFW supports this legislative proposal, which would grant certain congressional staff members and local governmental agency employees access to VA’s case-tracking information. This bill will allow Congress to better represent and respond to inquiries from their veteran constituents.
The VFW contends that state and county service officers should only have access to veterans for whom they hold a Power of Attorney (POA) or for veterans who are not represented by a service officer. This will ensure that service officers who hold a POA will be maintained as the primary point of contact for the veterans they represent.
H.R. 894, Improvement of Fiduciaries for Veterans:
The VFW supports the intent of H.R. 894. Protecting veterans from fraudulent fiduciaries, providing them an appeal process to have a new fiduciary appointed and ensuring veterans are capable of managing their own finances is critical.
However, it is unclear to the VFW whether or not due process will be violated by this bill’s proposed changes to Chapter 55 of title 38 U.S.C. The VFW believes that changing the title of paragraph 5502 to read “Appointment of fiduciaries” from “Payments to and supervision of fiduciaries” will codify how and when the Secretary can appoint a fiduciary without regard to the due process provision provided in 38 C.F.R. paragraph 3.353 (d) and (e).
We look forward to working with Congressman Johnson to ensure the intent of this bill is realized and that veterans’ due process is protected.
H.R. 1405, Inclusion of Appeals Forms in Notices of Decisions of Benefits Denials:
The VFW supports the intent of H.R. 1405. Ensuring VA has a clear notice of disagreement from the veteran is important to due process. Currently, veterans write a letter disagreeing with VA’s decision. This acts as the “Notice of Disagreement.” Providing veterans with a standardized form to file the disagreement will help both the veteran and VA during the appeals process.
However, the VFW is concerned by the current language of the bill. The VFW recommends amending this legislation to more clearly describe the bills intent. By amending Section 1, Paragraph (a), subparagraph (2) to read, “(2) by inserting before the period at the end of the following: ‘, and (3) a form that may be used to file a notice of disagreement of the decision’.” the bill would more closely reflect the intent of providing a standardized notice of disagreement when the initial rating decision is provided to the veteran.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony and I will be happy to answer any questions you or the Committee may have.