Reserve Officers Association of the United States, and Reserve Enlisted Association of the United States
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) and the Reserve Enlisted Association (REA) would like to thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to testify. ROA and REA applaud the ongoing efforts by Congress to address issues facing veterans and serving members such as veteran status, mental health assessments, tax exemptions, and claims processing.
Though contingency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected to drawdown, currently there are still high levels of mobilizations and deployments, and many of these outstanding citizen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have put their civilian careers on hold while they serve their country in harm’s way. As we have learned, they share the same risks as their counterparts in the Active Components on the battlefield. Recently we passed the 800,000th mark for the number of Reserve and Guard service members who have been activated since post-9/11. More than 275,000 have been mobilized two or more times. The United States is creating a new generation of combat veterans that come from its Reserve Components (RC). It is important, therefore, that we don’t squander this valuable resource of experience, nor ignore the benefits that they are entitled to because of their selfless service to their country
H.R.923, Veterans Pensions Protection Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Hastings (D-Fl), better defines the types of casualty losses that could impact a veteran, or surviving family receiving a pension. ROA and REA support this clarification.
Personal injury or property loss can have a devastating impact on any family. This just further aggravates the situation faced by veteran families that are living on a pension. Improving U.S. Code to address potential losses in advance prevents administrative complications in the future.
H.R.1025, introduced by Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and Jon Runyon (R-N.J), amends Title 38 and would recognize the honorable service of National Guard and Reserve members who qualify for military retirement, but have never been activated for a long enough period to be federally defined as a veteran. ROA and REA support such legislation including the bill passed by the House in the 111th Congress which failed to be considered in the Senate.
Most Reserve Component members believe they are veterans after serving their country, especially for20 years or more. Unfortunately, this is not the case. They are not considered “Veterans” if they have not served the required number of uninterrupted days on Federal active duty (defined as active duty other than for training).
While a commonly accepted definition is serving more than 180 days, not all service qualifies. To gain a veterans preference when applying for a federal job, a former member of the armed forces has to have either earned a campaign badge, or served on active duty, either since September 11, 2001, or served between August 2, 1990 and January 2, 1992, or after January 31, 1955 and before October 15, 1976, or have been in a war, earned a campaign or expeditionary ribbon, orserved between April 28, 1952 and July 1, 1955, as defined by Title 5 USC Section 2108. And if medically discharged through no fault of their own during the first 180 day period, the servicemember is considered a veteran.
Yet, as defined in law, Reserve Component members who have completed 20 or more years of service become military retirees and are eligible for all of the Active Duty military retiree benefits once reaching 60 years of age. Whereas Active Duty retirees are veterans, without the active service Reserve retirees are not.
Those Reserve Component members who have been called to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom will qualify as veterans. Many others who stand in front of and behind these men and women, preparing them and supporting them for and on overseas missions, are individuals who are also ready to deploy but because of assigned duties may never serve in an active capacity. Nevertheless they serve faithfully.
Twenty or more years of service in the reserve forces and eligibility for reserve retired pay should be sufficient qualifying service for full Veteran status under the law. And as written, this legislation will not increase their benefits.
This issue is a matter of honor for those who through no fault of their own were never activated, but who still served their nation faithfully for 20 or more years.
H.R.1826, introduced by Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Walz reinstates criminal penalties for persons charging veterans unauthorized fees. ROA and REA support this reinstatement.
Because of the backlog of benefit claims being processed by the Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans have been taken advantage by unscrupulous businesses claiming to be able to shortcut the process. Individuals or businesses who try to take unethical advantage of veterans should be penalized for their actions.
H.R. 1898, Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), which would create a new Section 5511 to Chapter 55 of Title 38, provides protection to serving members who could be discharged for mental defectiveness from restrictions under section 922 of title 18 on the subject of gun ownership. ROA and REA support such legislation that would require a review by authorities outside the Departments of Defense or Veteran Affairs to corroborate mental incompetence for handling civilian matters.
There is a risk of growing public distrust of sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury as the media and certain clinicians label these ailments as disorders. For many veterans, the transition between military and civilian life is a critical juncture marked by acute feelings of flux and dislocation. It does not need to be further hampered by labels affixed at the time of discharge.
Anyone who fights in combat is changed by it, but few are beyond a cure. This nation can ill afford to stereotype current veterans the way they did the veterans from Vietnam as being dysfunctional. Legislation like Rep. Rehberg’s will provide another protection for the veteran.
Additionally, the Army routinely dismissed hundreds of soldiers at the height of war from the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters for having personality disorders when they more likely suffering from the traumatic stresses of war. Defined as a "deeply ingrained maladaptive pattern of behavior," a personality disorder was considered a "pre-existing condition" relieving the military from paying combat-related disability pay, and providing adequate health care treatment. Later, the Army shifted discharges from “personality disorder” to “adjustment disorder” dismissing hundreds more. The symptoms can be the same as for post-traumatic stress: flashbacks, nightmares, anger, sleeplessness, irritability and avoidance.
The military (or the Department of Veterans Affairs) should not be the determining agency on a veteran’s mental capacity. Rep. Rehberg’s legislation provides veterans protection from being mislabeled.
H.R. 2349, the Veterans’ Benefits Training Improvement Act of 2011 by Rep. Jon Runyon (R-N.J.) helps ensure standards by assessing annually those Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) employees who process claims and by making sure these employees have core competencies. This assessment will help them retain those competencies in an occupation where new perspectives on disabilities arise bringing about constant change. Congressional oversight will remain in order to ensure that the VA meets expectations and provides the needed tools to keep the processers current.
With a goal of quality and efficiency in processing VA claims, ROA and REA can support this legislation.
ROA and REA appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony. ROA and REA look forward to working with the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where we can present solutions to these and other issues, and offer our support, and hope in the future for an opportunity to discuss these issues in person.
DISCLOSURE OF FEDERAL GRANTS OR CONTRACTS
The Reserve Officers and Reserve Enlisted Associations are member-supported organizations. Neither ROA nor REA have received grants, subgrants, contracts, or subcontracts from the federal government in the past three years. All other activities and services of the associations are accomplished free of any direct federal funding.