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Raymond C. Kelley

Raymond C. Kelley, American Veterans (AMVETS), National Legislative Director

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for providing AMVETS (American Veterans) the opportunity to testify regarding this pending legislation. Each of these pieces of legislation proves the desire of this committee to honor and support America’s veterans.

The claims backlog that plagues the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has been a great concern for veterans, and AMVETS is pleased to see the Committees on Veterans Affairs have taken the time to genuinely study this issue so long-lasting, effective changes can take place. H.R. 3047 takes steps to improve the VBA claims process. AMVETS believes one of the biggest issues with the claims process is the work credit system that is in place. The current system gives points to the Veteran Service Representative (VSR) for filing the claim. This is a very quantitative system that has led to incomplete or incorrect filing of claims, but as long as the claim has been filed the Regional Office (RO) receives credit for the claim. This system lends to the backlog, by claims being resubmitted by the veteran. H.R. 3047 will assist in making sure the claims are accurate by the VSR because no credit will be given to the RO for the claim until the appellate period has expired. This should encourage the VSR to submit good claims so they are not remanded or denied. This will give veterans a more timely decision on their claim and decrease the backlog because fewer claims will be sent back through the system. In addition to the credit of claims modification, implementing electronic filing will ensure the loss of documentation is reduced and more easily accessed, and not having the beneficiary of any accrued benefits re-file a claim upon the death of a veteran will reduce redundancy in filing, and finally, providing evaluations and assessments of VBA employees will also increase the effectiveness and decrease the backlog of claims being filed by providing feedback on any trouble areas.

The value of burial allowance benefits has seriously eroded over the years. While these benefits were never intended to cover the full costs of burial, they now pay only 6% of what they covered when the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) started paying the benefit in 1973. H.R. 3249 would bring the benefit back to its original value. These increases would provide meaningful contributions to the burial cost of our veterans. AMVETS supports this legislation but would also suggest expanding eligibility to include all veterans who would be eligible for burial in a national cemetery, not just those who served during wartime.

AMVETS supports H.R. 3286, which reduces the length of time in which a totally disabled veteran’s benefits can be transferred to a survivor, which in turn will greatly reduce the financial burden on the family members who are left behind. These veterans suffer and die from conditions and disabilities they received while serving our country. The period of time these veterans are 100% disabled should not be a consideration for payment of a benefit.   

H.R. 3415 honors our servicemembers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and were interred on foreign soil by providing a marker to commemorate their service in National Cemeteries. By including the servicemembers who were interred in an American Battle Monument Commission cemetery, a loophole would be closed that currently excludes a group of veterans which Section 2306 of Title 38 U.S.C. meant to include.

As of July of this year there were only 109 living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The modest increase in special pension H.R. 1137 suggests is justifiable for not only the sacrifices these heroes made, but for the lives they have saved. AMVETS supports H.R. 1137 in providing a $1000 per month increase in this special pension. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.