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Hon. John J. Hall, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of New York

Thank you all for coming today.  I am pleased that so many folks could attend this oversight hearing on “Helping Those Left Behind:  Are We Doing Enough for the Parents, Spouses and Children of Veterans?”

As the title suggests, I want to use this hearing to examine how effective our government has been in assisting the families of veterans.  I have noticed on several occasions that when we begin a discussion about taking care of veterans, we sometimes bypass or overlook the veterans’ family.  And, when we do get around to the veterans’ family, we are apt to apply a cookie cutter, one size fits all approach.  For example, we assume that the veteran is a male and the children live with both biological parents; however, this is not always the case. 

The current military is made up of many so-called mixed or blended families, in which children do not necessarily live with one or both of their biological parents.  Furthermore, the population of women serving in the military continues to grow.  More than 160,000 women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  As of February 2007, over 143 single parents have died in Iraq and the vast majority were women.  As a result, we are witnessing a new phenomenon of grandparents raising grandchildren that have been orphaned by the Iraq War.  We will hear from some of those grandparents today. 

I also hope today’s hearing will allow the subcommittee to look at how we can better assist those whose spouses have died on Active Duty.  One reoccurring theme that I have heard on this issue is the difficulty in navigating the bureaucratic maze immediately after the servicemember’s death.  And, I want to say at the outset that this is no critique of the VA because I think they try to be helpful, but the nature of the dual system in which both the VA and DoD provide benefits makes it very hard for an individual who has just lost a loved one.  I would be interested in learning more about a proposed idea to create an Office of Survivors, which combines VA and DoD resources in one location. 

In addition, I am concerned about those veterans who are facing a terminal condition and or who die before the completion of their benefits claim.  This is of great importance to the families of veterans, especially those of the Vietnam era who in many instances get overlooked because of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I want to know the current law with respect to an individual who files a claim but dies before the claim is fully adjudicated.  Can the spouse or the children of that individual continue the claim?  In the 108th Congress, legislation was introduced to permit such action.  I would like to know if such legislation is still necessary.

I am also interested in learning more about possible fixes to SBP and DIC, so spouses stop getting the short end of the stick. 

In closing, I just want to say that when we speak about veterans we must always remember to include their families.