Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborn, members of the Subcommittee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify today on H.R. 1137, H.R. 3047, “The Veterans Claims Processing Innovation Act of 2007,” H.R. 3249, the “Veterans Burial Benefits Improvement Act of 2007,” H.R. 3286, H.R. 3415, and H.R. 3954, “The Providing Military Honors for our Nation’s Heroes Act”.
H.R. 1137, the “Medal of Honor Special Pension”
PVA supports H.R. 1137, a bill that would increase the Medal of Honor Special Pension from the current $1,000 per month to $2,000 per month. Millions of men and women have served this nation during periods of conflict; very few have ever received this nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. There are only 109 living recipients of this prestigious award, dating back to their service in World War II. PVA supports the increase of this special pension for these American heroes.
H.R. 3047, the “Veterans Claims Processing Innovation Act of 2007”
We generally support H.R. 3047, the “Veterans Claims Processing Innovation Act of 2007.” PVA along with other veterans’ service organizations are very concerned about the backlog of claims in the Veterans Benefits Administration. We know from recent testimony that the VA is trying to reduce the time of processing a new claim from the current 188 days. We believe that a veteran injured while serving their country should not have to wait that long for his or her claim to be processed. PVA supports this effort to help alleviate some of the backlog.
Section 2 of the bill will establish a process that places an emphasis on the accuracy of the claims completed. If a VA regional office cannot receive credit for a claim until it is finally decided, we believe this will create an incentive to do it right the first time.
Section 3 of the bill involves electronic processing of claims. If software is available, or can be developed to help with the processing of claims we would support a pilot program to test the efficiency and accuracy of this program. The legislation suggests that the software would somehow replace the human ability to review and evaluate evidence in order to render an evaluation. PVA does not agree that software exist that can replace the human element. We believe that requiring the VA to retroactively scan in claims could create an additional burden. Perhaps this new system should be tested on new claimants only.
Section 4 of this bill would treat the beneficiary of a veteran’s accrued benefits as the claimant for the purpose of completing the submission of the claim. PVA supports this modification.
Section 5 of the bill requires evaluation of training and assessment programs for employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). We support this section.
H.R. 3249, the “Veterans Burial Benefits Improvement Act of 2007”
PVA supports H.R. 3249, the “Veterans Burial Benefits Improvement Act of 2007.” The original burial allowance benefit enacted in 1973 was intended to help with the burial cost of the deceased veteran. The amount of the benefit paid to the family at that time was $150. In 1978 the amount was increased to the current $300 for a non-service connected veteran, and in 2001 the amount for service-connected deaths was increased to $2000. This benefit was never intended to pay for the burial of the veteran, but help with a portion of the cost. The value of this benefit has eroded with inflation. In accordance with the recommendations of The Independent Budget, the comprehensive budget andpolicy document created by veterans for veterans, we support this legislation that will increase this benefit to $1,270 for a veteran and $4100 for a service-connected disabled veteran.
We also support the increase in the plot allowance from the current amount of $300, to $745 for qualified veterans. This provision also reflects a recommendation of The Independent Budget. PVA supports the provision that would make an annual adjustment in the amounts paid for burial, funeral and plot allowance.
PVA supports H.R. 3286. This bill would reduce the period of time for which veterans must be totally disabled for the purpose of benefits provided by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for survivors of certain veterans rated totally disabled at the time of death. It would reduce the required time for the veterans’ totally disabled rating from the current 10 year period to one year.
PVA supports H.R. 3415,a bill to authorize the placement of memorial markers in a national cemetery for the purpose of commemorating service members or other persons whose remains are interred in an American Battle Monuments Commission cemetery.
PVA supports H.R. 3954, “Providing Military Honors for our Nation’s Heroes Act”. In National cemeteries across the country dedicated veterans regularly perform the honorable ceremony of a military burial for fellow veterans. Usually the veterans providing this service are retired, living on a fixed and limited income and they may have traveled some distance. To reimburse these veterans for their expenses for performing this ceremony of recognition of service to the nation would be appropriate.
Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborn, thank you again for allowing PVA to provide our views on these important measures. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee to ensure that meaningful reforms are enacted. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.