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Mr. Kimo S. Hollingsworth

Mr. Kimo S. Hollingsworth, American Veterans, National Legislative Director

Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Committee, thank you for allowing American Veterans (AMVETS) the opportunity present our views on H.R. 23, the Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act.  AMVETS applauds this Committee and its effort to pursue legislative initiatives for veterans to obtain the services and benefits they richly deserve.

In 1977, Public Law 95-202 provided authorization for certain civilian groups to be classified as veterans for purposes of being eligible for federal veterans benefits, and on January 19, 1988, the Secretary of the Air Force declared certain Merchant Marine service as qualifying for veterans’ benefits.  Merchant seamen who served in active oceangoing service from December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945 are considered to be veterans.  Also eligible are Civil Service crewmembers serving aboard U.S. Army Transport Service and Naval Transportation Service vessels in oceangoing service.

Public Law 105-368, the Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998, amended Title 46, United States Code, by adding chapter 112, which provides that the “qualified service” of certain merchant mariners between August 16, 1945, and December 31, 1946, would be deemed active duty service for purposes of benefits eligibility under chapters 23 (Burial Benefits) and 24 (National Cemeteries and Memorials) of Title 38, United States Code.  Depending on the type of merchant marine service, certification of “qualified service” must come from the Department of Transportation or the Department of Defense.

Basic eligibility has thus been extended to covered merchant mariners for the following benefits: burial flags, burial allowance for certain indigent wartime veterans, plot allowance payable to a State for burial in certain “state owned” cemeteries or cemetery sections, headstones and markers, internment in national cemeteries, markers in memorial areas of national cemeteries, and markers in memorial areas of Arlington National Cemetery.  In general, benefits may be provided only for deaths occurring after November 11, 1998.

H.R. 23 would provide a $1,000 monthly payment, tax free, to the 10,000 surviving Merchant Mariners of World War II, or their widows.  If implemented, this legislation would cost $120 million for the first year, and approximately $20 million in subsequent years.  VA estimates that enactment of the legislation would cost approximately $1.43 billion over a five-year period, which is exactly why we want to take a deeper look at the effects of the bill.  VA estimates that enactment of the legislation would cost approximately $1.43 billion over a five-year period.

The Merchant Mariner’s were a small, but critical component to the Allies efforts in World War II.  They transported troops, ammunition, food, gas, and other supplies that were necessary to win the war.  It is estimated that as many as 800 merchant marine ships were sunk by enemy forces.  AMVETS certainly recognizes the sacrifices that these brave men made in service to the nation during World War II, and we have a resolution that supports this bill.  We do however; have serious concerns about the cost of this bill and how it would impair VA’s ability to provide the benefits it already manages.  Provided Congress decides to act on this legislation, it would also need to identify millions of dollars in offsets.  AMVETS would be strongly opposed to Congress seeking spending offsets from existing Department of Veterans Affairs accounts.  Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.