Paralyzed Veterans of America
Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborn, members of the Committee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) would like to thank you for the opportunity to present our views on this important legislation. PVA appreciates the efforts of this Subcommittee to address the benefits needs of veterans who are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and who have previously served with distinction.
PVA supports H.R. 156, a bill that would provide for payment of dependency and indemnity compensation to the survivors of former prisoners of war who died on or before September 30, 1999. The current statute states the Secretary shall pay benefits for the veteran who was a former prisoner of war and their disability was continuously rated totally disabling for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding death. This benefit will be available for the surviving spouse and to the children of former prisoners of war who die on or after October 1, 1999. It seams fair to extend this benefit to earlier years. These veterans may have sustained severe injuries as a result of combat action or their subsequent internment. In many cases the spouse of the 100 percent disabled former prisoner of war provided the required daily care for the veteran seven days a week for years before the death of the veteran. This kept that spouse out of the workplace where they could have pursued a career for their own economic survival.
PVA would also request that Congress require the VA to conduct an aggressive outreach campaign to ensure that these spouses of deceased former prisoners of war are aware of any change if made to the regulations. PVA would like the VA to make their best effort to contact all spouses that may qualify for this benefit. We also hope that in implementing these changes the VA not place an arbitrary deadline on the application process for these potential benefits.
During initial consideration of the traumatic injury insurance rider for Service members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI), PVA expressed concerns about the proposal that eventually became law. The legislation was meant to help service members who incur a severe disability while serving this country to overcome the financial hardship placed on them and their families while they are undergoing medical treatment and rehabilitation. Our principal concern that service members should not have to pay a premium for this coverage remains. We believe that helping these severely injured men and women overcome the financial strain of their situation is an obligation of the federal government.
However, the traumatic injury insurance has proven beneficial for veterans who elected to have the coverage. We support the concept of this legislation as it addresses an additional concern that we had with the proposal in 2005. We believed then, as we do now, that a veteran who incurs a service-connected severe disability that qualifies them for this benefit should be able to receive the payment regardless of where that disability was incurred. A service member should not be denied this benefit simply because he or she was not injured while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. We believe that this legislation corrects that particular inequity that exists in the current statute; therefore, we support this legislation on those grounds.
PVA has not objection to this bill that would reduce the age from 57 to 55 years after which the remarriage of the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran would not result in termination of dependency and indemnity compensation.
PVA would like to thank you for allowing us to submit an official statement for the record on these issues. We consider these very important matters and we commend the Subcommittee for addressing them. We would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.