IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
CONTACT: Dan Amon
March 1, 2001


SMITH CALLS FOR $550 MILLION 
TO REPAIR VA'S CRUMBLING HEALTHCARE BUILDINGS

Measure introduced day after 6.8-magnitude tremor damages Tacoma facility listed in VA report: 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - One day after an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude rocked the Northwest and damaged buildings at a Puget Sound VA medical center, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced the
Veterans Hospitals Emergency Repair Act already drafted to address a substandard healthcare infrastructure.

Smith said the previous Administration included practically no new construction in its last two VA budgets. 

"The main building damaged in yesterday's quake was identified several years ago as one that needed to be fixed," Smith said, "Congress must address this problem, even though there is an ongoing review of which buildings VA no
longer needs."

The Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) review won't be ready for several years, he said, "and I hope that Congress will begin to address this troubling and lingering problem in some of our nation's veterans hospitals."

The measure would empower the VA Secretary to choose individual projects determined with the guidance of Congress and the recommendations of an internal capital investments board independent of the Veterans Health Administration. Upgrading protection against earthquakes will be among the considerations in the choice of projects. The measure would authorize $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003. No project would exceed $25 million. 

"Recent reports by outside consultants and VA have revealed that dozens of VA health care buildings are still seriously at risk for seismic damage," Chairman Smith said. "The buildings at American Lake VA Medical Center damaged in yesterday's earthquake were among those identified as being at the highest levels of risk."

Among the damage, expected to cost billions of dollars, from Wednesday morning's earthquake were three buildings at the VA medical center. Some of the damage was described as serious. VA officials reported no injuries.

Independent reports have suggested that an agency the size of the VA should spend $700 million to $1.4 billion on repair and modernization projects. In addition to the warnings of risk from earthquakes, reports have also
outlined the need for $57 million just to assure the privacy rights of women at VA health facilities.

Smith said the interim projects of the Veterans' Hospital Emergency Repair Act were justified pending the conclusions of the CARES review, and would guarantee that "small-scale construction projects will not go unnoticed, unauthorized, and unfunded."

"By its nature, the bill is intended as a stopgap measure to give the VA Secretary limited authority to keep the health care system viable while the CARES process proceeds," he said.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.


 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dan Amon
March 1, 2001 


OMB GRANTS WAIVER, ENDS DELAY OF HOUSING LOANS FOR HOMELESS VETS


WASHINGTON, D.C. - House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) announced that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has indicated it will end delays in implementing a 1998 law enacted to
provide affordable housing for formerly homeless veterans.

The Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998 was signed into law on Veterans Day of that year. The program calls for up to 5,000 units of transitional multi-family housing for once-homeless veterans who are becoming productive wage earners. The program combines private-sector expertise with public-sector financial guarantees.

One of the first things Smith did after becoming VA Committee chairman was to repeat the request last December of his predecessor, Rep. Bob Stump (R-AZ), and Ranking Democrat Lane Evans (D-IL) that OMB end delays in
implementing the program. New OMB Director Mitch Daniels met with Smith and agreed to end obstacles to implementation. 

OMB later informed Smith that it would grant VA's waiver request to permit a 100 percent loan guaranty to borrowers under the program, thus removing the principle cause of the delays.

"Congress clearly intended this new law to supersede any inconsistent laws governing federal credit programs," Smith said. "I wanted to underline that Congressional intent as early as possible with the new Administration. I'm
pleased that OMB Director Daniels has acted so quickly and I'm glad for the veterans affected by this action."

OMB promised to meet with VA officials to discuss conditions of the waiver and progress of the program. The program is scheduled to be an oversight topic of the first hearing of the VA Subcommittee on Benefits.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.

 


'Lost ' World War II Battalion Gets Presidential Unit Citation
Mar. 2, 2001
Shelley Davis
Stars and Stripes Historian


The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion may have been lost to history when it was disbanded in February 1945, but no one could miss the unit's 40 or so surviving members as they spilled out of the Pentagon's fifth-floor auditorium on Feb. 23. 


The overflow crowd that showed up to watch them receive the Presidential Unit Citation forced Pentagon officials to open two additional rooms with remote television sets so that all family members could watch the ceremony. 


Charles Miller, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., brought almost his entire extended family along. The 24 family members, from four states and representing four generations, were there to honor the man whose wife said was among "about three men" of the 551st left standing after the Battle of the Bulge. 


1997 Book 


"He was glad we all came , just really excited," said Miller's 20-year-old great nephew, Dathan Miller, of Mill Spring, N.C., surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and his hero. 


The son of another survivor spurred the effort to recognize what became known as the "lost battalion." Gregory Orfalea (whose father rarely talked of his war experiences) began interviewing other members of the 551st, which suffered some of the highest losses of any unit in World War II. More than four-fifths of its 643 members were killed or wounded between December 1944 and January 1945. 


Orfalea wrote "Messengers of the Lost Battalion: The Heroic 551st and the Turning of the Tide at the Battle of the Bulge," which was published in 1997. 


The battalion became "lost " shortly after it captured the town of Rochelinval, France, on Jan. 7, 1945, forcing Hitler into retreat. With so few survivors, its members were dispersed among other elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the final months of the war in Europe , the battalion's records were lost. 


Two attempts to garner a Presidential Unit Citation were spurned by the Defense Department for lack of proof of the soldiers' gallantry. It was the publication of Orfalea's book that convinced the survivors to try once again, this time in Congress. 


Help From the Hill 


At the Pentagon ceremony , an emotional Maryland Rep. Constance A. Morella recalled the first visit from representatives of the 551st in May 1999 and their protest of the "injustice for these soldiers not to be recognized." But it was the evidence gathered by Orfalea, especially its eyewitness accounts, that convinced Morella to take the case. 


She said she agrees that it was the "accounts in the book that convinced the military awards branch to review the battalion's case for a third time"--the review that finally won the recognition the veterans had sought for so long. 


At the ceremony, the 551st veterans sat quietly as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki called them "genuine heroes of the greatest generation" and a "source of pride and inspiration for today 's young men and women in uniform." 


Six veterans, wearing the maroon airborne beret, stepped forward to drape steamers over the 551st unit flag as Shinseki said it was time to "rectify a 46-year-old oversight to present the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in a unit under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions." 


In addition to turning back the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge, the unit also is credited with participating in the first European-Theater daylight combat drop at Nice, France, two months after D-Day and with capturing several high-ranking German officers at Draguignan. 


During the Battle of the Bulge, the 551st was ordered to capture Rochelinval, where the bridge over the Salm River offered a last possible escape route for the German Army in the northern sector of the "bulge" that pushed into American lines. On Jan. 3, 1945, Company A of the 551st moved against the Germans, losing 40 percent of its men in the first two days of fighting. A desperate bayonet charge on Jan. 5 began to turn the tide, and two days later the troops took Rochelinval. Hitler's retreat began Jan. 8. 


On Feb. 10, 1945, barely a month later, the 551st --whose commander, Lt. Col. Wood Joerg, had been killed in the fight for Rochelinval--was disbanded. 


'Wounded...Kept Fighting ' 


The Miller family wants a Purple Heart awarded to Charles, a medal he turned down in haste 55 years ago. 


"I was wounded three times , bandaged myself up and kept fighting," said Miller. When he was offered a Purple Heart, he said, "I turned it down when I saw a man whose arm was blown off." He said he doesn't want any compensation, just the recognition that he served with the 551st and was wounded in battle. 


Miller's wife Millie, carrying a file she hoped to present to a Defense official, said he was hospitalized in England with shrapnel wounds as well as frozen hands and feet. "He should have had [a Purple Heart] so many years ago," she said. "It's been 55 years!" 

"For the amount of men in our unit, our outfit has the least amount of awards in World War II," Miller said .

Copyright © 1999-2000 Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.
Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.

 


Type 2 Diabetes, Agent Orange Linked By VA
Mar. 2, 2001
John E. Howell
Stars and Stripes Veterans' Advocate


In its biennial report, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that Agent Orange and dioxin are associated with the incurrence of type 2 (adult onset) diabetes. 


Why is this important? The VA plans to add Type 2 diabetes to the list of diseases known to be caused by exposure to dioxin. As a result, Type 2 diabetes will become presumptively service-connected for Vietnam veterans as soon as the VA complies with the law on administrative rulemaking . 


File your claim as soon as possible. Vietnam veterans with type 2 diabetes should file their claims with the VA, stating that they were in Vietnam and have type 2 diabetes. Claims may not be processed until after the "rulemaking" is done, but filing early helps get an earlier effective date for disability compensation. 


Collect Info 


Once your claim is filed , collect whatever information you have about your service in Vietnam as well as medical information about your condition (diabetes), and submit it to the VA. Remember, under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act, you must submit medical evidence of your current condition before the VA is required to "assist" you. 


Following passage of the Veterans' Dioxin and Radiation Exposure Compensation Standards Act of 1984 (the "Dioxin Act"), the VA agreed that it would presume that your Vietnam service exposed you to Agent Orange and other herbicides if you met these conditions: 

Duty in or visitation to Vietnam; 
Active military service in the Republic of Vietnam or the waters offshore; and 
Service in Vietnam from Jan. 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975. 

Initially, the VA said that only chloracne, a skin disease, was presumptively service-connected to Agent Orange . However, after a complex lawsuit (Nehmer v. VA, discussed in an earlier column, "Attention Vietnam Vets"), the VA began granting service-connection to diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange. 


The VA contracted with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the early 1990s to conduct medical studies on the effects of Agent Orange, and NAS was required to report on their findings every two years. The NAS initially reported that a number of diseases were connected to dioxin, so the VA incorporated these diseases into its regulations as presumptively service-connected unless there was "affirmative evidence to the contrary." 


(See 38 Code of Federal Regulations 3.313; 3.309(e); 3.307(a)(6), 3.307(d). You can find these regulations at your library or at www.access.gpo.gov/. 


In 1998, the NAS reported that studies conducted on type 2 diabetes were of "insufficient quality, consistency , or statistical power to permit a conclusion" to be drawn about an association between dioxin and the disease. 


The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health later reported that it found "an association" between dioxin and type 2 diabetes, although "not a strong association." 


The October 2000 report from the NAS stated that "[T]here is limited/suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to the herbicides used in Vietnam or the contaminant dioxin and Type 2 diabetes ." 


Acting VA Secretary Hershel Gober then found that there was a positive association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam during the Vietnam era and type 2 diabetes. 


VA Notice 


The VA is now incorporating this finding into 38 CFR 3.309(e) by "rulemaking" (the formal process necessary to publish an amended CFR). The VA Notice states: "There are no feasible alternatives to this proposed rule, since the Agent Orange Act of 1991 requires the secretary to promulgate [this rule] once he finds the positive association described above ." 


It will only be a brief time before type 2 diabetes is formally added to the list of diseases found in 38 CFR. It's about time. 


John E. Howell, a veterans ' advocate attorney in Washington, D.C., can be reached at Jhowell @sperdutolaw .com .

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Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.

 

Smith to 'Fast-Track' Hikes in Burial, Disabled Benefits 
Mar. 8, 2001 
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor


Rep . Chris Smith, R-N.J., March 1 introduced legislation that he said would make "a number of needed improvements to VA benefits and services" including increases in burial and funeral benefits and in assistance to severely disabled veterans. 

The Veterans Opportunities Act of 2001 would: 

Increase the burial and funeral allowance from $1,500 to $2,000 for veterans whose deaths are service-connected , and from $300 to $500 for those with non-service connected disabilities, and increase the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300. 
Increase assistance to severely disabled veterans for automobile and adaptive equipment from $8,000 to $9,000, and for specially adapted housing grants from $43,000 to $48,000. 
Revise the net worth rules of the VA's means-tested pension program to exclude the value of real property used for agriculture. 
Expand the definition of "eligible dependent" for purposes of VA outreach services. 
Extend to as early as nine months before discharge the period during which VA, Defense Department and Labor Department transition counseling is available to personnel leaving military service .period would be extended to as long as 18 months for retirees. 
Permit veterans to use VA education benefits for certificate programs offered by institutions of higher learning through independent study programs.


On the Fast Track 

Smith, who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars who packed the Cannon House Office Building caucus room that he and Lane Evans, D-Ill., the committee's ranking member, would "fast-track" the legislation. 


Smith tied the burial and funeral provisions to the VA's acknowledgement that the death rate among veterans will continue to rise, peaking at around 2008.than 1,500 veterans now die each day . 


"The amount payable for these benefits has remained constant for many years in spite of inflation," Smith said . "The purchasing power associated with these provisions still is limited and I consider these provisions as a starting point for further improvements." 


He said the Pentagon is expected to separate about 238,000 military personnel annually for the foreseeable future , and that many servicemembers have expressed a desire for more than the existing 90 days before separation allowed for transition counseling by the VA, the DOD and the Labor Department.


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Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.


AGENT ORANGE HOTLINE AVAILABLE

Vietnam veterans can now call a national toll-free hotline for answers about Agent Orange exposure, health care and benefits. Available at (800) 749-8387, the hotline is part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' continuing effort to reach America's 2.3 million Vietnam War veterans. Agent Orange, an herbicide, destroyed foliage and unmasked enemy hiding places during the war. Scientists have linked the chemical to at least 10 medical conditions, ranging from somewhat common, middle-age diseases, such as prostate cancer and adult-onset diabetes, to certain birth defects in veterans' offspring. Callers can speak to representatives Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Central Standard Time. At other times, they can access an automated system to leave voice mail requests for more information, or listen to recordings. A Web site created in conjunction with the hotline is available at:  <http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/herbicide>. For general
information on veterans' benefits and programs, visit:  <http://www.va.gov>.
 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dan Amon
March 13, 2001

Veterans to VA Officials: Fix Failing VA Hospitals 

Committee Chairman Smith says VA has "de facto moratorium" on major hospital repairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The country's major veterans groups told the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Tuesday that the VA has a backlog of construction projects that will take hundreds of millions of dollars to complete. 

"I believe that veterans need these overdue improvements now," VA Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) told to Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, VA's Under Secretary for Health at Tuesday's hearing on H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospitals Emergency Repair Act.

Tom Davies, director of architecture of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, noted that an independent consultant had advised the VA that it needed to spend between $700 million and $1.4 billion annually to maintain its 4,700 buildings valued at $35 billion. The American Legion, AMVETS, and the Disabled American Veterans praised the Committee for its bill (H.R. 811) designed to expedite the provision of repair funds totaling $550 million over the next two years.

Dr. Garthwaite said the VA is "particularly concerned about safety, privacy, and the need to address the requirements of special programs which are at the core of VA's obligation to veterans." 

But Chairman Smith said the agency plans to study the situation had caused "a de facto moratorium" on VA health care facility improvements over the past several years. 

"Projects were not funded while waiting for VA's Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative, but CARES could take four or five years just to produce a plan," Smith said. "Then it would take more time
for projects to go forward from there."

Dr. Garthwaite also disclosed that a VA facility near Seattle damaged in a recent earthquake could require more than $100 million to make it earthquake-proof. The medical center was identified in earlier VA reports as being among those at risk to seismic damage.

Chairman Smith responded to the call of the veterans groups for immediate action by announcing that the Committee would meet next week to consider the measure.

"There are hundreds of VA buildings currently in use that are long overdue for major renovation," he said. "This bill is a start, and we'll continue to look at this situation."

H.R. 811 would empower the VA Secretary to choose individual VA projects based on the recommendations of an internal capital investments board. Upgrading protection against earthquakes would be among the considerations
in the choice of projects. The measure would authorize $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003. No individual project would exceed $25 million.

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.


STATEMENT OF ARMANDO C. ALBARRAN NATIONAL COMMANDER OF THE DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS BEFORE THE COMMITTEES ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, UNITED STATES SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MARCH 14, 2001

MESSRS. CHAIRMEN AND MEMBERS OF THE VETERANS’ AFFAIRS COMMITTEES:


I am pleased to have the privilege to appear before you to discuss the major issues and concerns of America’s disabled veterans. Today is one of three of my greatest honors. It was an honor to serve my country. It was an honor to be elected by my comrades as National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans. It is certainly a great honor to appear before this joint session of these two distinguished committees to bring you the solemn message of our Nation’s disabled veterans.

Before I discuss the important issues facing disabled veterans, let me convey their thanks and the sincere appreciation of the DAV for the support you have continually given us. Last year, the members of these committees worked hard to pass legislation that was particularly important to veterans, and we are especially grateful for your efforts. We are encouraged by the dedication and deep sense of purpose that was evident in your actions. 

We want to congratulate you, Mr. Smith, on your election to the chairmanship of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and you, Senator Specter, on your reelection as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Both of you have had long distinguished service on your committees. Mr. Evans, and Senator Rockefeller, we are pleased to see you back as ranking members of your committees. We also want to acknowledge and thank Mr. Stump for his work on behalf of veterans as a member and as the former Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

Perhaps more than the constituents of any other committees, veterans identify more personally and have a closer association with the members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees and their staff. We want to warmly welcome the new members of the committees into our special fraternity and extend our offer to assist you in any way we can. The DAV has one major purpose, building better lives for America’s disabled veterans, and we will labor with you fervently to accomplish our mutual goals of ensuring that we meet our obligations to those who contributed and sacrificed so much to serve in our Nation’s defense. In all that we do, let us never forget how deeply indebted we are to our veterans. In that spirit, we look forward to working with all of you this year to continue our efforts to solve remaining problems and make necessary further improvements in benefits and services for veterans.

We are confident that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi will be a reliable and valuable partner in our collaborative efforts to make the system serve veterans better. Secretary Principi comes to this job with knowledge of veterans’ issues, extensive experience in veterans’ affairs, sincerity, a real desire to improve the delivery of benefits and services for veterans, and the respect of the veterans’ community.

Let me also interject here that, in our quest to build better lives for disabled veterans, the DAV does not look solely to government. We provide assistance directly to veterans to complement or supplement the benefits and services available through the government, or to fill in where veterans’ needs are not met by existing government programs. The centerpiece of DAV programs is our veterans’ claims assistance service. We employ a corps of 250 National Service Officers (NSOs) that we have thoroughly trained in veterans’ benefits law and the medical aspects of disability evaluation. These NSOs, who are themselves service-connected disabled veterans, must successfully complete a combination of 16 weeks intensive classroom instruction in our own National Service Officer academy and an additional 12 months on-the-job training. Every day in DAV offices across the Nation, our NSOs provide free benefits counseling and claims assistance to hundreds of veterans and their family m!
embers. Each year, we represent thousands of them in their appeals to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) here in Washington, D. C. Among the several organizations that represent veterans before BVA, the DAV represents by far the largest number and percentage of the total number of appellants. In fiscal year (FY) 2000, we provided representation in 11,061 of the cases decided by BVA, which was more than 35% of represented appellants and 32.5% of all appellants. Statistics indicate that 27.9% of DAV’s cases were allowed by BVA and another 28.6% were remanded to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) field offices to correct defects in adjudication or record development. The DAV is also the largest single practitioner before the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Our judicial appeals staff filed 168 appeals in 2000. Of the 127 cases for which a disposition was reached in the Court last year, 122 were reversals or remands. The Court affirmed the BVA decisio!
ns in only five of our appeals. We therefore had a remarkable 96% success rate at the Court. 

In striving to even more effectively meet veterans’ needs and ensure they receive the benefits our grateful Nation has authorized for them, we have undertaken two new initiatives to enhance and expand benefits counseling and claims representation services to veterans. The first of the two programs involves outreach to members of the Armed Forces at the location and time of their separation from active service. The second involves services to veterans in the communities where they live.

For benefits counseling and assistance in filing initial claims, the DAV has hired and specially trained 19 Transition Service Officers who will provide these services at military separation centers, under the direct supervision of DAV National Service Officers. This corresponds to goals in the strategic plans of both VA and the DAV. By accepting and deciding compensation claims at separation centers where the service medical records and examination facilities are readily available, VA’s strategic plan envisions better, more prompt service to veterans in a way that is also more efficient and effective for VA. This enhancement in assistance to those seeking veterans’ benefits will contribute to the DAV’s strategic goal of maintaining its preeminent position as a provider of professional service to veterans.
The DAV’s new Mobile Service Office program is a part of the same goal. By taking its service offices on the road to rural America and assisting veterans where they live, the DAV will increase accessibility to the benefits our Nation provides for veterans. The DAV has initially put 12 of these specially equipped mobile offices on tour to make stops in communities across the breadth of the country. In an initial 7-day trial run of one of our Mobile Service Office units in January of this year, we interviewed 616 veterans and other potential claimants. We accepted new powers of attorney to represent 336 claimants, and we completed 458 applications for benefits. This program promises to be very successful. For its first year, we project that we will conduct 40,000 interviews, take 29,500 applications for benefits, and execute 20,000 new powers of attorney.

Beyond all the services we deliver through our employees, the DAV and DAV Auxiliary together currently have approximately 10,300 volunteers who predominantly assist employees and patients in VA hospitals. Last year, they logged 2,341,680 hours of free service to the VA, valued at $34,727,114. Since we began our program to furnish indigent and disabled veterans free transportation to VA facilities for medical care, the DAV has purchased and then donated 992 passenger vans to the VA, at a cost of $19,366,408. Through our close relationship with Ford Motor Company, we have secured the donation of 53 additional vans from Ford. From the transportation program’s inception to the end of FY 2000, we provided 5,707,656 round trips to veterans, in which our DAV drivers volunteered 11,775,630 hours of their time and traveled 220,917,864 miles. 

In addition, the DAV assists veterans and their families through disaster relief grants, college scholarships, and a variety of other ways. Of course, we are only able to accomplish these benevolent tasks because of strong support from a generous American pubic and selfless dedication of our members, who often volunteer despite their advanced age and their own painful and debilitating disabilities. Many of our supporters and volunteers are from what Tom Brokaw has described as “America’s Greatest Generation,” but the rest exhibit those same admirable, steadfast qualities of character and devotion to the welfare of others. They all deserve our respect and gratitude.

Disabled veterans deserve special recognition. Collectively, and in their own individual ways, they contributed much and often lost even more in the name of freedom. In the security and expectation, or even the joy and exuberance, of our freedom, we are too often prone to forget how it was won. We too easily forget the immense cost in blood and suffering. To appreciate the value of freedom, we must know and be reminded of its cost. Our celebration of victory cannot comprehend its true significance unless we keep firmly in mind the horrors of battle that went before. That we owe so much to our disabled veterans does not of its own merits and importance, without reminders, remain in our national consciousness. The stories of individual acts of bravery will often remain untold, and these heroes will remain unsung. Nonetheless, we know of their wounds and disabilities. Yet, we have not accorded them the special honor they so rightfully deserve and we so surely owe. 

In contemplating the solemnity of the debt we owe our veterans, especially our disabled veterans, Thomas Paine’s famous words resonate: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Franklin Roosevelt observed, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” All the more lost in that failure of memory are those who became disabled in military service. We have all heard that freedom is not free. Freedom is a luxury we have been able to afford only because veterans were willing to pay its high price, something we would all do well to remind ourselves of from time to time. 

We have many monuments here in the District of Columbia to stimulate reflection on the meaning of our existence as a Nation. Our citizens come here to celebrate democracy and honor those responsible for securing and preserving it. Ironically, we have no memorial to honor the contributions, sacrifices, and crucial role of disabled veterans in our history. 

Last year, Congress enacted legislation to authorize a memorial here in the Nation’s capital to honor our disabled veterans. However, the National Capital Memorial Commission rejected placement of the memorial at a site on the Mall. The Commission determined that the subject matter of a memorial to disabled veterans is not “of preeminent historical and lasting significance to the Nation.” Of course, we think that decision is absurd. The Secretary of the Interior has been asked to overrule the Commission’s decision. If legislation becomes necessary to specifically authorize the placement of this memorial on the Mall, we hope to again receive your full support.

Naturally, our ability to work for the betterment of disabled veterans and serve them on such a large scale gives us a deep sense of pride and accomplishment, but let us not forget that benefits and services for veterans remain primarily the responsibility of our Federal Government. The citizens and government of a country that sends its sons and daughters to defend its borders and fight its wars have a strong moral obligation to repay them for bearing this heavy burden. Our indebtedness to veterans is more important than any other part of our national debt because, without their sacrifices and bravery, we would not exist as a nation. Therefore, just as it is imperative that a nation maintain a strong national defense¾or else risk loss of the right to determine its own destiny¾it is important for a nation to ensure that veterans’ programs, like national defense, are and remain a top priority. 

Since its first National Convention in 1921, the DAV’s annual legislative program has served to guide its advocacy for disabled veterans in accordance with the will of its members. Promoting meaningful, reasonable, and responsible public policy for veterans has always been at the heart of what we are and what we do. Our will and commitment come from the grass roots, from the ground of veterans’ sacrifices, and have their vitality in our strong convictions. What we communicate to you here today echoes the hopes and desires, and in some areas, the despair of disabled veterans, who appeal to the conscience of the Nation to do what is right and just.

Though we can be proud that we have accomplished much for veterans in the past, much remains to be done. In the work we do, we have no room for complacency. When it comes to justice for disabled veterans, we cannot be timid in our advocacy. Congress and the DAV, working together with mutual assistance, must battle for what is best for veterans. Veterans have every right to expect their government to do justice toward them. We call upon you, the members of these committees, to educate and appeal to your colleagues about the priorities of veterans’ needs. 

Today, we are at a crossroads in veterans’ affairs. Delivery of health care is undergoing a radical transformation. Modernizing and reforming the delivery of veterans’ health care in ways that best serve them is made all the more difficult because of their advanced age and because many of them have lived more difficult lives and are in poorer health than the civilian population due to their disabilities. 

The timely, accurate delivery of benefits continues to present a formidable challenge. Here again, the solutions are complicated, compounded, and confounded by factors and illnesses and elusive cause-and-effect relationships seemingly unique to the military environment to which veterans have been exposed.

High mortality rates among our large population of older veterans create a pressing need to plan and provide for additional cemetery space to meet their burial needs. 

The members of these committees will be expected to fashion legislation and push for resources to meet these needs. In this task and these challenges, this new Congress has new opportunities to fulfill your responsibilities to veterans. 

Against this backdrop, we call upon you to lead the campaign to honor our obligations to veterans. In so doing, we are guided primarily by the resolutions our members adopted to make up our legislative agenda for this year and by the policy positions of the Independent Budget for Veterans Programs.

At the beginning of every new Congress or session of Congress, we are, of course, always confronted with the annual budget for veterans’ programs. What you do in the annual budget process determines whether and how well we live up to the solemn promises we have made to our Nation’s veterans. 

In the health care legislation the 106th Congress enacted, you have shown that you are committed to modernizing, improving, and expanding the VA’s health care programs. This year, we must continue to invest in improvements in veterans’ health care to allow VA to deliver high quality and accessible services to veterans. Without adequate resources, VA cannot meet increasing demands for medical care and the mandates of last year’s legislation. To cover inflationary costs, to deliver expanded services mandated in law, and to restore certain services to acceptable levels, we have recommended in the Independent Budget a $2.667 billion increase in the medical care account. Without this additional funding, VA will not be able to adequately meet veterans’ health care needs and will lose ground in the improvements it has already made. We intend to press our case for adequate funding very firmly, but we will again need your full support to persuade your colleagues outside the Vetera!
ns’ Affairs Committees.

The VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration continues to struggle with its serious and longstanding problems in processing benefit claims. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Principi has pledged to make fixing this problem one of his highest priorities and foremost goals. His determination and good intentions alone are not enough, however. He needs the full support of Congress. Here again, adequate resources are a central issue. One root cause of the current situation is Federal budgets over several successive years that provided inadequate resources. As a consequence, the VA was forced to reduce staffing levels in the face of increasing workloads and demands on the system. The ensuing emphasis on production resulted in even poorer quality than already existed. Pervasive quality problems required work to be redone, which in turn overloaded an already overburdened system. 

Despite its efforts, the VA has been unable to overcome its quality and thus its timeliness problems. In addition to leadership, the VA must have additional personnel to make up for the unwarranted past reductions in claims adjudicators, to meet increased workload demands, to provide essential training, to ensure quality, and to achieve and maintain satisfactory timeliness in claims processing. We have recommended in the Independent Budget an additional $60 million over current services to allow the VA to increase staffing by 830 full-time employees for these purposes. 

The lessons we have learned from a history of inadequate resources are unmistakable. We cannot deny the destructive effects of insufficient funding for veterans’ programs. It would be inexcusable to repeat these errors of the past. Without sufficient trained personnel, the VA cannot hope to restore efficiency and effectiveness to its claims processing. Without adequate funding, the VA will not be able to implement its forward-looking claims processing reforms, but rather will be forced to return to the habit of fighting today’s fire with no means to deal with its troubles over the long term. 

In your deliberations on funding for the Veterans Benefits Administration, we remind you that the VA must also contend with additional work because of the necessity to review thousands of cases in which it did not furnish assistance to veterans in developing evidence to support their claims. We believe that the VA could have avoided much of this additional work if it had joined with veterans in telling the courts that they were wrong in their interpretation of the law on the duty to assist. Instead, the VA maintained that the courts had properly interpreted the law and discontinued assistance to veterans. Now, it must rework those cases to fulfill its obligation to assist veterans. For the VA, its mistakes should be a great teacher, but unfortunately, that learning comes at a high price for us. We urge Congress to act promptly and decisively to provide the VA the supplemental funding it needs to accomplish its review of these cases.

Although the VA’s benefits workload is increasing, the veteran population is declining at a rapidly increasing rate. Currently, approximately 1,500 veterans are dying daily. More than 77,000 are interred annually in cemeteries operated by the VA’s National Cemetery Administration. With the aging veteran population, death rates will escalate and place great demands on the limited existing burial space in national cemeteries and state veterans’ cemeteries. This sharp increase in demand creates a need for more burial space, more personnel, and more funding for state cemetery grants. In the Independent Budget we recommend a $9 million increase over this year’s $110 million appropriation for the National Cemetery Administration. We recommend a $5 million increase over this year’s $25 million funding to finance construction of more state veterans’ cemeteries. Last year, you recognized the acute need to increase the appropriations for national and state veterans’ cemeteries an!
d acted decisively to provide more money in the budget. We urge you to take the same decisive action this year.

We realize, in the competition for the Federal dollar, getting the fair share for veterans is never as easy as it should be considering the merits of veterans’ programs. Others take bold steps to obtain funding for their programs, and the members of these committees must take bold steps also. You must make authoritative statements by your own willingness to jump into the fray on behalf of veterans. When you do, you can count on the DAV’s aggressive support. You can also count on the DAV’s full support in forging legislation to address a range of other needs in veterans’ programs.

At the top of the list this year, is the lingering and compelling issue of legislation to repeal the requirement that career servicemen and women surrender the retired pay they earned to receive compensation for their service-connected disabilities¾what we have come to refer to as “concurrent receipt” legislation. It is time that this debt was settled, that this injustice is remedied.

Military retirees earn longevity retired pay by virtue of their completion of long service on behalf of the country. Disabled veterans receive compensation for an entirely separate reason¾because of ongoing effects of service-connected disability. Many nondisabled military retirees pursue second careers after service to supplement their income, thereby justly enjoying the full reward for completion of a military career along with the added reward of full pay for the civilian employment. In contrast, military retirees with service-connected disabilities do not enjoy the same full earning potential. Their earning potential is reduced commensurate with the degree of service-connected disability. To put them on equal footing with nondisabled retirees, they should receive full military retired pay and compensation to substitute for diminution of earning capacity. To the extent that military retired pay and disability compensation are now offset against each other, the disable!
d retiree is treated less fairly than the nondisabled military retiree. This is especially inequitable where the military retiree is totally precluded from employment by service-connected disability. Moreover, a disabled veteran who does not retire from military service but elects instead to pursue a civilian career after his or her enlistment expires can receive full compensation and full civilian retired pay. A veteran who has served this country for 20 years or more should have that same right. The veteran should not be penalized for choosing the military service as a career rather than a civilian career, especially where in all likelihood a civilian career would have involved fewer sacrifices and greater rewards. Compensation should not be offset against military longevity retired pay. 

We have seen concurrent receipt legislation introduced and sometimes passed in one chamber or the other only to fall in the end year after year. No one seriously debates the inequity of the existing offset between military longevity retired pay and disability compensation. Sadly, cost, not fairness or justice, decides the matter. 

Someone once said, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.” The easiest way to get rid of a difficult task is to do it. Lyndon Johnson said, “This country is rich enough to do anything it has the guts to do and the vision to do and the will to do.” Surely, this country can afford to do right by those who, as career soldiers, became disabled veterans. As military retirees, they served faithfully with the promise of the retired pay they earned. Those who serve do so with the general understanding and confidence that our government will compensate them for the disabilities they incur in service. Most are surprised and discouraged to learn that, after they have faithfully performed their part of the contract, their government uses the receipt of one as an excuse to renege on their promise of the other, to use their disability compensation as an excuse to avoid payment of the retired pay they earned. Again, retired pay is !
owed for past service; compensation is paid for future impairment in earning capacity. There is no rational basis for offset; there is no justification for the failure to correct this. We must put honor above expedience. Veterans are no longer accepting the excuse that we cannot correct this injustice because of the cost. 

While some complain about the complacency and detachment of our Nation’s youth, ample evidence suggests that our youth are watching, learning from, and condemning government’s sometimes-hollow promises, hypocrisy, and failures. It has been observed that a Nation’s destiny lies in its youth. Essential to our national security and the preservation of our freedoms is the continued willingness of our sons and daughters to serve in our Armed Forces. The Vietnam War taught us that even some of our patriotic citizens will not lay their life on the line when they do not have confidence in their government. We believe that, in the long run, the cost of fixing this injustice is far less than the cost and pervasive consequences of not fixing it. 

I know that many of you already agree with me on the need for concurrent receipt legislation. Awareness heightened last year. H.R. 303 had 322 cosponsors. Expectation among veterans that legislation will be enacted has also heightened. Congressman Bilirakis, particularly, and others have long pressed for remedial legislation. Senator Harry Reid has led the battle in the Senate. These few champions of this legislation cannot succeed standing alone, however. All of the members of these committees need to step in, speak out, and stand firm with your congressional leadership on this issue. I am confident that most if not all of you will hear a strong and adamant plea this year to enact this legislation, and not only from those who will be the beneficiaries of such legislation, but from the veteran population generally. This is an issue that outrages and unites veterans and others who understand the depth of the injustice. Be assured, veterans will stop pounding this drum!
only when government listens. 

Equally compelling, but involving fewer veterans and less cost, are inequities or areas needing improvement in other VA benefit programs. Because we have covered these issues in our published resolutions that make up our Legislative Program for this year and in the Independent Budget, I will highlight here only some of the more important areas in which we urge the committees to move remedial legislation.

>From the comments some of you made in raising the estate limit for incompetent veterans last year, we know you agree that it is one of the most offensive, unfair, and inappropriate provisions in VA benefits law. When mentally incompetent veterans without legal dependents are hospitalized or institutionalized at Government expense, the law requires discontinuance of their veterans’ benefits if they have any substantial savings or estate. Their benefits are resumed only after their estates are spent down to an amount that is equal to only two and one-half months of compensation at the 100% rate. No estate limit applies to other hospitalized or institutionalized veterans. Therefore, for the purposes of estate limits, the law distinguishes between veterans simply on the basis of whether they suffer from mental disability. 

This is an arbitrary discrimination against the mentally ill, many of whom suffer from mental disability because of their military service. In that instance, the law penalizes them because of their service-connected disability. If it is unjustifiable to single out an already disadvantaged class for further burdens merely because they are disadvantaged, it is even more unjustifiable to penalize those who suffer from mental disability when that disability resulted from military service. In any event, mentally disabled veterans have the same right to compensation as physically disabled veterans: their mental illness is not a proper reason to penalize them. 

The consequences are extremely unfair and unjust. These veterans cannot accumulate any significant savings. They can only hold relatively small amounts in reserve for contingencies, purchases, or future expenses. They are reduced to near paupers who must depend solely on the Government to fill only the most meager needs. Unlike other veterans, they are unable to accumulate estates to be left to their heirs. 

The current statutory provision and its discriminatory effect have their origins in laws dating back to a time when it was public policy to withhold benefits from the “permanently insane”—an era when eugenics and social Darwinism were in vogue and the mentally ill were sterilized and viewed as a societal burden or menace. The mentally ill were segregated from society and treated by long stays in mental institutions or insane asylums. 

This provision in VA law is based on outdated notions and is inconsistent with the more enlightened, modern approach in which the mentally ill are treated with the same human dignity as others. No sound basis exists for continuing this dual standard and disparate treatment of the mentally ill. Today, no legitimate public policy goal is served by this estate limitation; rather, its discrimination against the mentally ill is repugnant to notions of fundamental fairness and social justice. As long as this remains in the law, it is an ugly black mark against our Government. We appreciate your effort last year to lessen its injustice, but we hope you will act to remove it entirely in the 107th Congress.

Similarly, we urge you to remove the unfair reduction in the payment of retroactive benefits to survivors when the VA beneficiary dies before payment can be made to him or her. If a beneficiary is entitled to a retroactive award of benefits but dies before disbursement can be made, only benefits for the last 2 years of the retroactive entitlement period can be paid to survivors. Consequently, if, at the time of death, a veteran had just prevailed in a long-fought appeal and was entitled to retroactive benefits for the period he or she was erroneously denied the benefits, the veteran’s death would result in forfeiture of all benefits due beyond the last 2 years. The surviving spouse or children, who suffered economic deprivation for an extended period because of an erroneous VA decision, would be barred from receipt of a substantial portion of the benefits the veteran would have received if he or she had lived a little longer. The Government’s errors and delays should not s!
erve as a means to reduce its obligation to sick and disabled veterans, who may die before VA can correctly dispose of their claims. The DAV urges you to remove this arbitrary 2-year limitation on payment of “accrued benefits.” 
Other benefit programs suffer from neglect to make adjustments for the rise in the cost of living. For example, the allowance for specially equipped automobiles for severely disabled veterans has not been adjusted since 1998. Before that, the allowance was not adjusted for 10 years. 

When this program was originally created in 1946, the law set the allowance at an amount sufficient to pay the full cost of a lower-priced new automobile. With subsequent cost-of-living increases, Congress sought to provide 85% of the average cost of a new automobile, and later 80%. Because of a lack of regular adjustments to keep pace with increased costs, the value of the automobile allowance has substantially eroded through the years. Currently, the $8,000 automobile allowance represents only about 32% of the average cost of automobiles in the year 2000. 

Veterans eligible for the automobile allowance are among the most seriously disabled service-connected veterans. Often, public transportation is difficult for them to use, and the nature of their disabilities requires the larger and more expensive handicap-equipped vans or larger sedans, which have base prices far above today’s smaller automobiles. The current allowance is only a fraction of the cost of these vehicles. 

If this benefit is to accomplish its purpose, it must be adjusted to reflect the current cost of automobiles. To avoid the repeated erosion of the value of the benefit in the future, the law should provide for automatic annual adjustments based on the rise in the cost of living or annual adjustments tied to the cost-of-living raise for compensation, in the same manner the law now provides for an increase in the annual clothing allowance for disabled veterans.

Similarly, you should adjust the amount of the specially adapted housing grants for seriously disabled veterans and include provisions for automatic annual adjustments or include adjustments in the compensation cost-of-living increase.

The burial allowance has also been allowed to lose ground to inflation. As you know, we provide burial allowances as a final measure of appreciation for service rendered on behalf of the Nation and to help ensure that our Nation’s military veterans will be buried with the dignity they deserve. For deaths from service-connected causes, the law currently authorizes a $1,500 burial allowance. For nonservice-connected deaths, the law authorizes a $300 burial allowance. The allowance for service-connected deaths was last adjusted in 1988, and the allowance for other deaths was last adjusted in 1978.

Over these several years without any adjustment, the value of the burial allowance has eroded. The amount of the allowances should be raised to make them a more meaningful contribution to the costs of burial for our veterans.

Let me switch for a moment to an issue that does not require any appropriation, but which is among our priorities and should be near the top of your agenda. That issue is the abuses of state courts that order disabled veterans to pay their disability compensation to able-bodied former spouses as alimony. I know of no other issue that so inflames veterans. I know of no other issue where veterans’ anger is so deep and red hot. That anger is more than justified.
Under long-standing Federal law, veterans’ benefits are supposed to be exempt from the claims of third parties. Section 5301 of title 38, United States Code, provides that “Payments of benefits due or to become due under any law administered by the Secretary shall not be assignable except to the extent specifically authorized by law, and such payments made to, or on account of, a beneficiary shall be exempt from taxation, shall be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy, or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary.” While the courts once interpreted this broad exemption as saying what it means and meaning what it says, they later employed all manner of convoluted rationales to hold that it does not preclude state courts from ordering support awards to former spouses. By their own judicially created exceptions for purposes of support payments and alimony, the courts!
have undermined and subverted the protection Congress granted veterans. The courts overrode the will of Congress to change the law to meet their own notions of what the public policy should be. Unfortunately, these courts simply do not appreciate the unique nature and purposes of veterans’ benefits.

We should never lose sight of the fact that it is the veteran who suffers, in addition to the loss of earning power, the pain, the limitations in routine activities of daily life, and the other social and lifestyle constraints that result from disability. Disability compensation is a personal entitlement of the veteran. Once a spouse is no longer a partner in the veteran’s household and no longer a member of the veteran’s family, veterans’ laws do not provide benefits for that spouse, and we should not allow the states to award the spouse part of the benefits intended for veterans and their family members. Because the state courts do not honor or fulfill the intent of Federal law, benefits intended for disabled veterans are now often diverted to third parties who have not contributed toward the defense of the Nation.

In this, we do not suggest that veterans’ compensation should be immune to valid child support orders. We do not dispute that disabled veterans have a responsibility to support their children. Even so, disability compensation should be the last source considered for awards of child support. A carefully crafted amendment of the law could require a more reasoned balancing of the rights of the veteran and children and set a more definite and equitable basis for ordering child support payments from disability compensation. 

As it stands, compensation enjoys no real protection from unwarranted state actions, or state actions that disregard the purpose of disability compensation. Because these are Federal benefits created to further Federal goals, the Federal Government should exercise some reasonable control over them to ensure they are not misused for the states’ self-serving purposes and diverted to uses never imagined or intended.

Therefore these committees should act decisively to replace strict limits on access to veterans’ benefits by third parties to ensure compensation goes mainly to support veterans disabled in the service of their country. The law should be precise enough to ensure that, properly applied, it would never permit an able-bodied ex-spouse to take and enjoy part of the veteran’s payment for the effects of disability he or she suffers.

In the past you have acted with great care and concern to craft laws tailored to address unique disabilities and needs of specially targeted groups of veterans. Usually you did so because existing general benefits law did not adequately speak to the peculiar situation or because you were convinced the VA was not applying existing law fairly toward these special groups of veterans. With these special laws, particularly, experience often reveals areas in need of adjustment or more precision to carry out the intent of Congress. In the laws pertaining to compensation for disabilities related to herbicide, or “Agent Orange,” exposure; radiation exposure; and Persian Gulf War illnesses, we have identified needed changes or improvements.

We have had a long difficult struggle to get the VA to recognize and compensate disabilities due to Agent Orange exposure. Our Armed Forces used this herbicide extensively in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971. It contained the byproduct dioxin, which is one of the most toxic substances known. It has now been related to several diseases.

Because military records did not document all spraying of this herbicide, because existing records are not detailed enough to allow determination of the precise location of specific military units and individual soldiers in relation to the spraying, and because the chemical was carried away from the area of application by wind drift and streams, the VA determined that it would be impossible to prove or rule out exposure in most individual cases. Given these circumstances and consistent with the benefit-of-the-doubt rule, the VA in 1980 adopted a policy of presuming exposure to the herbicide in the case of any Vietnam veteran who claimed exposure. In 1999, however, the VA abandoned the presumption although the circumstances for this policy and its legal premises had not changed. Congress has included in law a presumption of exposure for veterans claiming service connection on a presumptive basis, but veterans are now placed in the impossible position of proving exposure whe!
n they claim direct service connection for disabilities related to Agent Orange. We therefore call on Congress to restore this presumption by statute. 

We are encouraged that the VA has recently taken a more reasonable stance on disabilities related to radiation exposure. The former acting Secretary initiated rulemaking to make additional diseases subject to presumption of service connection. Laws to compensate persons who lived downwind from nuclear test sites and civilian employees in atomic weapons programs presume or recognize an association between radiation exposure and several cancers not included in the list of diseases eligible for presumptive service connection. If the proposed regulation is approved, cancer of the bone, brain, colon, lung, and ovary will be added to the VA’s list of diseases that qualify for presumptive service connection. If that regulation is not promptly approved, Congress should act to make these diseases subject to presumptive service connection by statute. 

When the VA would not compensate Persian Gulf War veterans for undiagnosed illnesses although their common experience of serving in the Persian Gulf and the similarity of their symptoms circumstantially linked their illnesses to their military service, Congress stepped in to mandate such compensation. Because the causes and pathological mechanisms of the disease were unknown, the law delegated authority to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to set the period during which these illnesses must manifest to be eligible for the presumption of service connection. Although the causes and nature of these illnesses are yet unknown, the Secretary’s regulation will end the presumptive period in December of this year. Until we have answered these questions, we have no basis to determine how long the interval between exposure to the causes and the onset of the symptoms should be. Some of these veterans remain on active duty. The period for presuming service connection should therefore!
be left open until we solve the mystery of this scientific conundrum. 

Additionally, the VA has written its regulations in such a way as to exclude service connection when a physician uses his or her best guess to assign a diagnostic label to one of these ill-defined syndromes or illnesses. As a consequence, one veteran may be granted compensation where another suffering with essentially the same symptoms may be denied simply because the latter’s physician ventured a guess as to a diagnosis. 

To remedy these shortcomings in current law, Congressman Manzullo has introduced H.R. 612 in the House, and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has introduced S. 409 in the Senate. We ask you to again step in to bring equity to the rules on compensation. We ask for your support of this important legislation. 

Veterans in another special group became our most disadvantaged, not because of unequal treatment under veterans’ laws in most cases, but because of unequal opportunities due to a complex of socioeconomic factors and misfortunes. Often, the causes of their predicament can be directly or indirectly tied to the lasting influences of their military service. Some are those whose psychological wounds of war are so profound they cannot heal. These veterans deserve a helping hand from those of us who have been more fortunate. I am, of course, speaking of homeless veterans whose daily existence is under the most miserable circumstances. We cannot let the warmth, comfort, and security of our own homes and community and family lives make us forget the awful plight of veterans who spend their lonely lives on the hard streets and cold back alleys of our cities and in primitive rural campsites. 

That we have people, particularly veterans, of such desperate circumstances in the world’s most prosperous democracy is an inexplicable contradiction. Homelessness among approximately a quarter million of our Armed Forces veterans in such times of national prosperity is not an insurmountable irony. It is a tragedy, more because we allow it to continue than because we allowed it to occur.

We like to say to our veterans, “you are not forgotten.” Let us make sure that we mean it and say it to all veterans. Let us stubbornly refuse to allow homeless veterans to become our forgotten veterans; let us firmly resolve to give them a real helping hand. 

In the DAV’s assistance to homeless veterans, “We Don’t Leave Our Wounded Behind” has become a promise and a rallying theme. This year in May and June, the DAV will host “stand downs” to assist homeless veterans all across the Nation. We will have another homeless stand down at our National Convention in Miami, Florida, in August. 

Undeniably, we must devote more resources and be more resourceful to attack the root causes, break the cycle, and defeat the blight of homelessness among veterans. Homeless veterans need such basic services as medical care, financial counseling, vocational training and rehabilitation, employment assistance, and family counseling to overcome the causes of their homelessness. The DAV and community groups operate various homeless programs, but the need for services is far beyond our capacity to assist and our resources. The meager funding provided by the Government for homeless initiatives is not close to being commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. With the focus on the problems of the homeless, we can expect the introduction of bills and recommendation of increased appropriations to address these issues. We hope to see the members of these committees take the lead in supporting these measures.

Much of what I have already said calls upon you to enact laws to establish or improve veterans’ programs, but the best veterans’ benefits legislation is ineffective if not followed and not enforced. With judicial review, we have a means to enforce your laws when the VA does not follow them. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has itself sometimes strayed from fundamental principles of VA law and has attempted to corrupt the informal and benevolent administrative system by imposing the formalities of litigation upon veterans and the VA. Last year you acted without hesitation to restore the VA’s long-standing duty to assist veterans and remove the nebulous and burdensome court-imposed formalities of the “well-grounded claim” requirement. Additional work remains to be done, however. This year’s Independent Budget incorporates two of the DAV’s resolutions that seek legislation to improve the judicial review process. 

The Independent Budget recommends that you change the law to require the courts to enforce the benefit-of-the-doubt rule. The law now requires the VA to give the veteran the benefit of the doubt when the evidence tends no more to disprove than prove a fact material to the issue. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims does not enforce this statutory rule. It will overturn a factual finding of the VA only if it has no plausible basis in the record. Thus, the VA has total freedom to ignore the benefit-of-the-doubt rule. 

The Independent Budget recommends that you enact legislation to give the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit the authority to review questions of law decided by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Under current law, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims can create a new rule of law for the first time without that new rule of law being subject to further review by any court. That situation is anomalous in our legal system and allows ill-advised rules to go unremedied. Observing the shortcomings of this situation, the American Bar Association has also adopted a resolution calling for this change. 

We hope to see legislation introduced this year to make these much-needed corrections in the judicial review process for veterans’ claims. We have also recommended that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit be given authority to review the VA’s revisions of the disability rating schedule. Currently, no remedy exists for revisions that are totally arbitrary or in clear violation of the law. We should never condone an arbitrary and capricious or unlawful rule in the area of veterans’ benefits, but we should be especially intolerant of such a rule in the rating of service-connected disabilities.

I want to assure you that improvements in the judicial review process are every bit as important as improvements in basic benefits law. No matter how well expressed, your will and your intent are frustrated and do not achieve their laudable goals unless the VA follows your laws, and when it does not, veterans must be able to enforce the rights you have conferred upon them through meaningful judicial review.
With our positive recommendations to improve veterans’ programs and their delivery systems, we call upon you to reject recommendations that have goals or effects that are not in the best interests of veterans. Two of the current proposals that trouble us the most are lump-sum settlements in lieu of ongoing periodic payments of disability compensation and privatization of veterans’ health care and other services. 

As you know, current law authorizes compensation on a continuing basis for relief from the effects of service-connected disability for as long as the disability persists at a compensable level. The degree of disability determines the rate of compensation, thereby requiring reevaluation of the disability when it undergoes a change in severity. Lump-sum payments have been recommended as a way for the Government to avoid the administrative costs of reevaluating service-connected disabilities and as a way to avoid future liabilities to service-connected disabled veterans when their disabilities worsen. Like the abusive practices of some unscrupulous private operators who take advantage of the predicament of the terminally ill to obtain the rights to their life insurance settlements in exchange for an immediate viatical payment that is only a fraction of the value of the life insurance, VA would engage in the practice of enticing veterans, at a vulnerable point in their lives, !
to bargain away their future compensation for an immediate lump-sum settlement. Such a scheme is contrary to the benevolent purposes of our veterans’ programs and our obligation to care for our veterans disabled in the service of their country. The DAV strongly opposes lump-sum settlements for compensation. We urge you to give this idea no further consideration.

While, in some instances, it may have pure motives and while it may be attractive to veterans on its face, privatization of veterans’ health care or other services is not in the best interests of veterans. At its worst, with a deceptively attractive alternative to VA care or other services, this proposal exploits some veterans’ dissatisfaction with the shortcomings of the VA system and a desire for the simple solution to justify undermining, diminishing, and gradual dismantling of the VA system over the long term. Once the VA infrastructure is dismantled, veterans will have no guarantee of care or services that fully address their special needs. At its best, its good but misguided intentions have the same disastrous result. On the surface, such proposals are easy to sell and easy to defend, but more careful inspection reveals their true motives or folly. We urge you to oppose recommendations to privatize VA services. At the same time, we urge you to act to strengthen an!
d ensure VA maintains its health care system, particularly its capacity to furnish specialized treatment programs at acceptable levels.

The DAV views the VA’s specialized health care programs as the core of the veterans’ health care system. In the Veterans Eligibility Reform Act of 1996, Congress imposed the requirement that the VA report annually on its ability, within its specialized programs, to maintain the unique treatment and rehabilitative needs of disabled veterans with spinal cord dysfunction, blindness, amputations, and mental illness. This law also required the VA to maintain the capacity to treat these veterans at least at its October 9, 1996, levels. Advisory committees which monitor these programs have reported that the VA has failed to maintain its specialized services at the mandated levels and that these programs have been compromised by reorganization, staff shortages, and inadequate resource allocations. Across the Nation, wide and marked variations in the quality and level of services have resulted. Because these programs are national assets and critical to the treatment of disabled v!
eterans, we cannot overemphasize the importance of your oversight and intervention where necessary.

We hope you will support and participate in a number of other activities to remember and honor the sacrifices and contributions of America’s veterans this year. In addition to the groundwork for a memorial to disabled veterans, we are in the midst of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, and we have continual activities and programs to keep the fate of America’s prisoners of war and missing in action in the American consciousness and conscience.

As the members of our Armed Forces continue to patrol the demilitarized zone, we are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, the first military clash of the Cold War and one in which the United States, the Republic of Korea, and our allies joined under the United Nations flag for the first time and fought a brutal war to stop Communist aggression on the Korean Peninsula. During the commemoration period from June 25, 2000, to November 11, 2003, a partnership among the VA; other Government and military departments; veterans’ organizations; community and civic organizations; and businesses and corporations will sponsor and conduct a number of special events. The primary purposes of these commemoration events are to thank and honor veterans of the Korean War and their families and provide Americans with a clearer understanding and appreciation of the Korean War, its lessons, impact, and broader historical significance. 

On Memorial Day, the DAV would especially like to invite you to watch on the Public Broadcast System (PBS) a documentary film titled Korean War Stories that we supported and helped create along with the Ford Motor Company and PNC Financial Services. The film features several of your colleagues and other notable Korean War veterans who vividly recount their own experiences during the war. Although it is often called the “forgotten war,” it is in reality our forgotten victory¾a victory without which our world would most likely be very different today and a victory for which we are deeply indebted to our brave Korean War veterans. With these veterans’ firsthand accounts, this film helps put that bravery and that victory into a perspective unavailable elsewhere.

Among those we remember, those we must never forget are our prisoners of war and missing in action. To focus on issues surrounding Americans taken prisoner or listed as missing in action from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War, the DAV is hosting a national summit on POW/MIA issues. This summit will be held in Washington, D.C., on September 20, 2001. Our aim is to assess the current status of efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting of these missing Americans, including those who might still be alive. We will also work to provide a broad perspective on the prominent issues as a way of informing the public and influencing our Nation’s current and future public policy on POW/ MIA issues. We look forward to your support and participation in this and other initiatives to keep up the vigil on POW/MIAs.

As you can see, our work for veterans continues to involve many issues and many challenges. As I observed earlier, we are at a crossroads in veterans’ affairs. There is no reason why what is in front of us cannot be much better than what is behind us. Our history of meeting our obligations to veterans has fallen short not only of our highest ideals but also of our capabilities. We simply have not always kept veterans at the top of the list of national priorities. We can longer excuse our failure to provide veterans the benefits and services they rightfully deserve by saying we cannot afford to fully honor our promises. We have the means to meet our obligations. Now we must demonstrate we have the will to do so.

With our prosperity and our projected budget surpluses, we cannot honorably let veterans and their programs continue to suffer. At this turning point, we should look over our shoulders at some of the bad things government did to veterans in the past and say “never again.” Never again will we agree to let other interests in Congress divert funding from veterans’ programs to spending elsewhere. Never again will we eliminate or reduce veterans’ entitlements to reduce the budget in times of increased spending in other areas of government. Never again will we tell veterans that the citizens of our grateful Nation have generously provided them free benefits as repayment for their honorable service, but the government has decided that they must pay user fees and co-payments to obtain these veterans’ benefits.

As we then turn to look forward, we must revive that sense of something higher in what we do for veterans. We must reaffirm our commitment to veterans, and live up to it. The members of these committees must continue to send a strong message by your own actions. You must set the example. Before you do anything else, make sure you have taken care of veterans. Remind your colleagues that veterans ask far less than what they have given. Educate your colleagues on the higher merits of veterans’ programs. Those disadvantaged by misfortune deserve assistance from the more fortunate, but disabled veterans are more worthy because they are in their predicament by reason of their conscious choice to put their lives and health on the line for their country and fellow citizens. 

In considering the message I have brought you today on behalf of disabled veterans and in your work on veterans’ issues in the future, I ask that you, as I do, remain mindful that our right to convene here in these stately halls of government cost the lives and health of many brave Americans. You are therefore entrusted with the most sacred and fundamental of government responsibilities. As the architects and stewards of veterans’ policy, and to further the legitimate ends of veterans’ programs, you must have the same kind of noble motives that our veterans had in making that conscious choice to render service to their country. For their invaluable service, you must respond with benefits and services appropriate to their contributions and sacrifices.

Our cause in the DAV is your cause, and that cause is a just one. For this cause, we are then joined together in partnership. If we are on the same team, we must pull in the same direction. If we have the same goals, and are willing to work conscientiously to achieve them, we will have success this year despite the height of the hurdles in our path. From this crossroads and crucial point in the history of veterans’ programs, let us continue our forward advance, and let us choose only the right course.

For all that you have done, for all that you will do, and for allowing me the opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans today, thank you.
 


Evans Introduces Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Bill
Mar. 14, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

The media, lawmakers and a sea of veterans surrounded Heather French Henry in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington March 8 to help Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., celebrate his introduction of a bill in French's name to assist the nation's homeless veterans . 


French, who was Miss America 2000, is the namesake of H.R. 936, the Heather French Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2000. Evans honored her earlier on the House floor, saying: "If we consider how much one young woman accomplished during her year of service as Miss America on behalf of our nation's homeless veterans, there can be no doubt this nation can end homelessness among veterans within a decade." 


Evans and French stressed the importance of therapeutic housing for veterans recovering from substance abuse . Evans said that a member of his staff recently visited a facility in Las Vegas and was told that VA staff "usually" can find a bed for homeless, dying veterans in their last weeks of life. 


Outraged and Ashamed 


"As a nation, we should be outraged and shamed by this treatment of men and women who have served our nation in uniform," Evans said. 


French said she had statistics indicating that over the next decade veterans will experience 1 billion nights of "veteran homelessness" if the current number of homeless veterans remains the same . 


There are between 291,434 and 344,983 homeless veterans in the country, according to recent estimates. 


Since mid-September 1999 , when she was crowned Miss America, French has been visiting homeless veteran programs across the nation, from those run by the VA to community-based nonprofit organizations to multi-jurisdictional Stand Downs, community-based outreach events. 


Among the bill's provisions : 

· Participation by homeless veterans in compensated work therapy. 

· Expanded dental and mental health care. 

· Transitional housing. 

· Creation of evaluation centers to address health care needs of homeless veterans. 

· A comprehensive outreach program, including links to the Bureau of Prisons, state social service agencies , the Department of Defense and mental health, veterans and homeless advocate organizations . 

· Creation of a 15-member homeless veterans advisory committee within the VA. 

· Coordination of employment services. 

· Transitional assistant grants to veterans being released from various institutions. 

· Technical assistance grants to nonprofit community-based groups with experience in providing assistance to homeless veterans. 

· A home loan program for manufactured housing. 

· Use of VA assets such as real property to provide emergency, transitional or permanent housing for homeless veterans. 

The legislation is intended "To establish the end of homelessness among veterans within a decade as a national goal of highest priority."

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Principi Task Force Tackling VA Benefit Claims Crunch
Mar. 14, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

Acting on a pledge made during his Senate confirmation hearing, VA Secretary Anthony Principi has created a task force to review the agency's benefits system to find ways to simplify health claims processing. 


The VA's benefit claims system is "too slow and likely to include errors," Principi said at a recent Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting. "Simply too many veterans have lost faith in the VA's ability to fairly and promptly decide their claims for benefits." 


Last year the Associated Press reported that it now takes the VA longer to process claims than it did a decade ago, despite spending more than $200 million to upgrade its computers. The Veterans Benefits Administration distributes compensation to some 3.2 million veterans and their survivors. 


Processing Time 


It takes the VA an average of 205 days to process a disability claim, compared with 164 days 10 years ago, the AP said. 


According to the VA, on Jan . 1, 2000, the number of pending claims before the agency was 348,433. On Jan. 1, 2001 , the number of claims was 370,330--an increase of 21, 897. 


"If the current trend continues , by the end of the year the VA will have a backlog of nearly a half-million more claims than it had at the beginning of the year," said Douglas McArthur, executive director the National Veterans Organization of America. 


The VA's weekly workload reports indicate the following: 

· Report of Jan. 8, 2001 : 385,972 pending claims, an increase of 31,609 over the previous year and 15,642 over the previous week. 

· Report of Jan. 16, 2001 : 402,775 pending claims, an increase of 46,687 over the previous year and 16,803 over the previous week. 

· Report of Jan. 22, 2001 : 421,681 pending claims, an increase of 63,819 over the previous year and 18,906 over the previous week. 

· Report of Jan. 29, 2001 : 437,394 pending claims, an increase of 77,216 over the previous year and 15,713 over the previous week. 

· Report of Feb. 5, 2001 : 458,525 pending claims, an increase of 96,913 over the previous year and 21,131 over the previous week. 

· Report of Feb. 12, 2001 : 450,524 pending claims, an increase of 86,389 over the previous year and a drop of 8,001 below the previous week. 

· Report of Feb. 19, 2001 : 459,572 pending claims, an increase of 92,019 over the previous year and 9,048 over the previous week. 

· Report of Feb. 25, 2001 : 475,362 pending claims, an increase of 107,201 over the previous year and 15,790 over the previous week. 

· Report of Mar. 5, 2001 : 481,857 pending claims, an increase of 116,671 over the previous year and 6,495 over the previous week.

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Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.

 


Veterans Groups Promote Agendas on Capitol Hill
Mar. 14, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor

Representatives of five veterans groups went to Capitol Hill March 8 to present legislative packages and voice their concerns about health care and other issues before a joint session of the Senate and House veterans affairs committees.

"We are truly shocked, and outraged," Joseph L. Fox Sr. of the Paralyzed Veterans of America told the lawmakers , when VA health care managers who "claim they cannot maintain program size, hire enough medical professionals and meet patient demand because of budget problems return millions of dollars of unspent budgets at the end of every year--dollars that should have been spent on veterans' health care."

"Many veterans wait weeks and months for diagnosis and treatment of serious health problems," testified David W. Sommers of the Non Commissioned Officers Association.

"A shortage of nurses has critically affected the ability of the Veterans Health Administration to provide inpatient, outpatient and long-term care. Increased pay for existing nurses recently provided is only part of the answer. A 'full service clinic' in veteran-intensive areas should not mean a skeleton crew of one physician, one physician assistant, one nurse and a receptionist."

Employment Priority

Sommers also called for priority service for veterans in employment and training programs funded with federal money and required by federal contracts; a redress mechanism for veterans whose priority rights have been violated, and a national outreach and marketing program directed at potential veterans' employers.

Frederick A. Taylor Jr., national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, presented this shopping list :

· Full and adequate VA funding in order to maintain current services for veterans and their families.

· VA Medicare subvention to enhance older veterans' access to VA health care.

· Full funding of the TRICARE -for-Life program; direct the VA and the DoD to develop comprehensive TRICARE sharing agreements to improve access to VA facilities.

· Extend CHAMPVA eligibility to beneficiaries older than 65.

· Restructure the GI Bill .

· Adequately fund the Veterans Benefits Administration to reduce the backlog of disability claims.

· Support a change in law to allow military widows/widowers to retain their dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) status and benefits if they remarry after age 55.

· Legislation allowing service -disabled retirees to concurrently receive disability compensation and retired annuity pay.

· Ensure the enactment of VA regulations authorizing the presumption of service-connection for veterans infected with hepatitis C.

· Resolve House and Senate differences over codifying regulations for burial at Arlington National Cemetery .

· Provide federal funding for the creation of new state and national veterans cemeteries and state veterans care centers.

· Support a stamp commemorating the Purple Heart medal and honoring the nation's combat-wounded.

Bob Smith of the Blinded Veterans Association stood up for:

· A full cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans receiving disability compensation and surviving spouses and dependent children receiving DIC.

· Authorization of the VA to bill Medicare for services provided to certain veterans.

· Passage of the Medicare Vision Rehabilitation Coverage Act.

· Authorization of the VA to pay travel costs associated with veterans attending VA special disabilities programs .

· Passage of the Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Act of 2001.

· Improvement of the Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB).

· Elimination of earned income limitations on blinded Social Security disability income (SSDI) beneficiaries .

Jewish War Veterans

And Ronald Ziegler, national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., asked for:

· A $3 billion funding increase over fiscal 2001 for health care.

· Improvement in clinic appointment scheduling for access to medical treatment.

· Enactment of Medicare subvention legislation.

· Improved cooperative arrangements for procurement between the VA and DOD's TRICARE system.

· Reduction of the benefits claims backlog and improvement of the claims process.

· Enhancement of the MGIB .

· Repeal of section 1103 , title 38, United States Code, concerning service-connection of tobacco-related illnesses .

· Increased rates for beneficiary travel reimbursement.

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Health Care Systems Slow to Adapt to Deployment Concerns
Mar. 15, 2001
Mickey McCarter
Stars and Stripes Managing Editor


Servicemembers deployed overseas are more likely to contract chronic illnesses and government health care systems must continue to study such problems in order to meet veterans' needs , according to Pentagon and VA officials.

 

"During this period of change of the past few years, there has been a reluctance to commit to capital reinvestment out of the concern that VA was unsure of facilities that would clearly be needed in the future," Dr. Thomas Garthwaite, the VA's undersecretary for health, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee March 13.

 

Garthwaite testified that the VA must "make improved choices for veterans health care delivery in the future , including focusing on the core mission of providing high quality health care to veterans with disabilities or low incomes."

 

'Moratorium' on Improvements

 

But committee chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., expressed impatience with further VA studies, saying that hospital construction has been delayed in the past because of ongoing VA studies, resulting in a "de facto moratorium" on improvements.

 

"Projects were not funded while waiting for VA's Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services initiative , but CARES could take four or five years just to produce a plan," Smith said. "Then it would take more time for projects to go forward from there."

 

Accompanying Garthwaite was his deputy, Dr. Frances Murphy, who three days earlier had addressed the American Legion at an event co-sponsored by Stars and Stripes Omnimedia. The program focused on Gulf War illnesses, and the panel speakers included Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, chief of staff at the Defense Department's Office of Gulf War Illnesses, and Gen. Charles Horner (USAF-ret.), Central Air Forces commander during the Gulf War.

 

Murphy said that recent VA studies have indicated "significantly higher rates of various illnesses among deployed veterans than nondeployed."

 

One recent study, involving 15,000 Gulf War veterans, will enter its third and final phase in April--physical examinations of 2,000 veterans as well as 300 of their spouses and children to obtain data on chronic illnesses and their health impact on the families of military personnel .

 

The veterans in the study so far have exhibited higher rates of chronic fatigue as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the VA.

 

Murphy said that the VA has eliminated "sarin, vaccines, depleted uranium and nerve agent protection pills" as the cause of illnesses experienced by troops returning from deployment or of syndromes such as Gulf War Illness. A two-year review scheduled by the Veterans Health Administration will focus on pesticides and solvents.

 

DU Hazard Downplayed

 

The DoD's Kilpatrick spoke in more detail about depleted uranium, assuring Legion members that DU, based on a study of Gulf War veterans, poses no threat to servicemembers exposed to ammunition coated with the substance.

 

"Medical literature reviews by the RAND Corporation, by the Institute of Medicine and by Health and Human Services have all concurred that radiation from natural uranium exposures or depleted uranium exposures, which are 40 percent less radioactive, have not been associated with the development of cancer," said Kilpatrick.

 

He said that 60 veterans are participating in a program at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., to treat injuries resulting from exposure to depleted uranium from friendly fire.

 

"In evaluating over 150 other veterans who were concerned about their possible depleted uranium exposures, only 12 have had urine uranium levels above the selected level of 0.05 micrograms of uranium per gram of creatinine," said Kilpatrick. Repeated testing showed fewer veterans exceeded the safety level.

 

The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness (OSAGWI) is to expand this year and become the Office of the Special Assistance for Gulf War Illness, Medical Readiness and Military Deployments . According to the introductory annual report released by OSAGWI, "the Department of Defense is not well structured to deal with the non-traditional issues occurring after every deployment. The Gulf War experience revealed significant shortcomings in our understanding of modern war health stressors."

 

The report notes that servicemembers in future deployments may face health problems similar to those of returning Gulf War veterans. The Gulf War Illness office will continue to provide new information at its Gulflink website at www . gulflink . osd . mil as well as a new site, DeploymentLink, later this year.

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Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.

 


Principi Applauds Bush's VA Budget Figures 
Mar. 15, 2001 
Mickey McCarter
Stars and Stripes Managing Editor 


WASHINGTON --VA Secretary Anthony Principi lauded President Bush's VA budget proposal in remarks before the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) in Washington, D.C. 


"It reaffirms our commitment to quality health care for low-income veterans and for those with service-connected disabilities," said Principi. 


The $1.96 trillion budget proposed by Bush for fiscal 2002 on Feb. 28 includes more than $51 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, granting the VA $23.4 billion in discretionary spending authority, a 4.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The remaining amount is devoted to entitlement programs such as disability compensation for veterans. 


Overall, the VA budget would increase by about $3 billion over the current fiscal year under the Bush proposal . 


Responding to criticism that the VA health care system has not been aggressive in expanding certain services, Principi said that the VA's "finite health care system" was funded by a "finite budget." 


"If you have an entitlement , you don't have anything to worry about because Congress has to write a check," said Principi, but he added that many discretionary programs are limited by the money that legislators are willing to allocate. 


Smith-Evans Plan 


Some lawmakers would like more discretionary spending than the Bush proposal allows. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N .J., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, criticized the Bush plan March 7 as one that would "just about keep veterans health care even." 


In a bipartisan plan drafted by Smith and Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., discretionary VA spending would increase by $2.1 billion instead of the $1 billion increase in Bush's proposal. The veterans affairs panel recommended about $1.5 billion in VA health care increases and another $49.8 million to address the disability and pension claims backlog. According to Smith, an additional $1 billion would only adjust discretionary spending for inflation . 


Bush has promised to improve the VA claims system, which has a history of large backlogs. He also wants to establish a health task force composed of VA and defense officials, veterans service organizations and health care experts to reform the VA health care system. 


Representatives of several veterans organizations at the NOVA meeting, however, noted that the Bush budget plan would also force retirees to choose between the Defense Department and VA health care systems. 


Evans, the veterans affairs committee's ranking member, sympathized with concern that retirees would face limited health care options if they were forced to choose between the two systems. 


"Unfortunately, there hasn 't been a lot of concern raised over that issue on the committee," said Evans. "I suggest that your organization put it on its agenda and let's see if we can get some response to that concern." 

Emergency Repair Bill 

On March 1, Smith introduced the Veterans' Hospital Emergency Repair Act (H.R. 811), which would provide $550 million over the next two years for immediate repairs to existing VA medical facilities , $325 million in fiscal 2002 and another $225 million in fiscal 2003. 


The bill would allow no more than $25 million for a single project. It would include projects such as those needed to prevent seismic damage to VA facilities. 


VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Thomas Garthwaite said that a VA facility near Seattle might require more than $100 million to make it quake-proof after being damaged in the Feb. 28 earthquake there. H.R. 811 was drafted before the earthquake but introduced the day after. 


The $1.525 billion increase proposed by House veterans panel also would include $141 million for mental health programs; $100 million for increasing pharmacy costs; $88 million for long-term care ; $75 million for staff to reduce waiting times; $68 million for emergency care; $30 million for homeless programs, and $23 million for spinal cord injury programs. 

Copyright © 1999-2000 Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved. 
Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense.

 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
March 15, 2001 


VA Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Benefits Package, Outreach, and Servicemembers Insurance Measures

VA Committee Chairman Smith, Secretary Principi back retroactive extension of insurance benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The VA Subcommittee on Benefits took testimony Thursday on a comprehensive package of education, burial, disability, pension and improvements, as well as a separate bill extending retroactively the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program to spouses and children.

It was the year's first Benefits Subcommittee hearing, and the first under new Chairman  J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ). H.R. 801, the Veterans' Opportunities Act of 2001, was the first bill introduced by full VA Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Democrat Member Lane Evans (D-IL), Subcommittee Chairman Hayworth, and Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Member Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). Smith also expressed his support for H.R. 1015, the SGLI Adjustment Act, introduced by freshman Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA). 

"I'm pleased that for the first time in many years, we are moving forward with increasing the burial and funeral allowances for service-connected, as well as non-service-connected veterans," Chairman Hayworth said.

Congressman Reyes, the first Member of Congress to propose a retroactive insurance increase as part of H.R. 801, expressed concern for "the families who lost loved ones in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole" and for those killed in North Carolina, Hawaii, Georgia and Kuwait. Reyes said he welcomed the support of Chairman Smith and VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi for his
request that the families of the Cole victims not be forgotten.

H.R. 801 would increase the burial and funeral allowance from $1,500 to $2,000 for veterans whose deaths are service connected, and from $300 to $500 for veterans with non-service connected disabilities. It would increase the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300. It would also:


* Increase the assistance to severely disabled veterans for automobile and adaptive equipment from $8,000 to $9,000, and for specially adapted housing grants from $43,000 to $48,000;

* Permit veterans to use VA education benefits for certificate programs offered by an institution of higher learning by way of independent study;

* Revise the net worth rules of VA's means-tested pension program to exclude the value of real property used for agriculture;

* Expand the definition of "eligible dependent" for purposes of VA outreach services.

* Extend to as early as nine months before discharge the time that VA, Department of Defense, and Department of Labor transition
counseling is available to someone leaving military service. The period would be extended to as much as 18 months for those retiring after military careers.

H.R. 1015 would increase the amount of Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) paid to survivors of members of the Armed Forces who died in the performance of duty between November 1, 2000, and April 1, 2001. The increase was signed into law November 1, 2000, but implementation was delayed until April 1. H.R. 1015 would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase SGLI payments to the maximum amount of $250,000 to those who previously contracted for the maximum benefit.

Full Committee Chairman Smith noted VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi's support for the extension, and said he expected the VA Committee to take up the Davis measure when it considers H.R. 801 next week.

"Members of the Armed Forces go in harm's way on a daily basis," Smith said, "and I urge all members of the VA Committee to lend their support to Ms. Davis' legislation."

Subcommittee Chairman Hayworth noted the number of military personnel who lost their lives on duty since last November, including the 17 sailors on the U.S.S. Cole bombing, the nine soldiers, 22 Marines, and 18 Air National Guard members who died in recent aircraft crashes, and five other Americans who died in a Kuwait training accident.

Secretary Principi testified before the Subcommittee, as did panels of educators and veterans service organizations. Rep. Michael Doyle (D-PA) and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) appeared to request consideration of legislation expanding VA outreach programs. The Subcommittee also heard testimony on VA's implementation of veterans transitional housing assistance, which was signed into law in 1998.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.
 


New Pharmacy Benefits Begin April 1 For Senior Beneficiaries
Mar . 19, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor
 


Beginning April 1, uniformed services beneficiaries aged 65 and older will begin receiving pharmacy benefits provided under the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA ). An estimated 1.4 million beneficiaries are eligible. 

The new program will limit out-of-pocket costs and increase access to the National Mail Order Program (NMOP ) and retail pharmacies that are part of the Defense Department network, which includes major chain drugstores. 

"Drug therapy, for many of our older retired servicemembers, is one of their greatest and most costly medical needs. This is a comprehensive drug benefit that makes pharmacy care accessible and affordable," said J. Jarrett Clinton, M.D., acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. 

No Enrollment 

Beneficiaries 65 and older are not required to pay enrollment fees or annual premiums for TRICARE pharmacy benefits , but co-payments will be charged when they use NMOP and retail network pharmacies . Those opting to use non-network pharmacies must pay a slightly higher co-payment and deductible. 

In the past, only beneficiaries eligible for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) benefits and the Pharmacy Redesign Pilot Program (PRPP) could participate in NMOP and the retail pharmacy network program . The new program replaces the BRAC pharmacy benefit and the Pharmacy Redesign Pilot Program. 

To use the TRICARE retail and the mail order benefit, beneficiaries must be eligible for Medicare Part A and enrolled in Part B. (Those who turn 65 before April 1 are eligible even if they are not enrolled in Medicare Part B. 

The NMOP offers the largest discount to DoD beneficiaries. The retail pharmacy program can be used for short -term, immediate-use medications. Lists of TRICARE network pharmacies will be available from regional TRICARE contractors. Beneficiaries who use non-network pharmacies will have to meet an annual deductible, incur a higher co-pay, and pay the entire bill up front, and then file a claim for reimbursement. 

Update Deers 


DoD officials said beneficiaries should update their Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) records with their correct addresses and any changes in family status, such as marriage, divorce , birth or adoption. 

Addresses in DEERS can be updated by visiting local personnel offices that have an ID card facility; by calling the Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office (DSO) at 800-538-9552; by faxing changes to 831-655-8317; or by mailing the change information to the DSO, Attn: COA , 400 Gigling Road, Seaside, Calif. 93955-6771.

Copyright © 1999-2000 Stars and Stripes Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved. 
Stars and Stripes - The National Tribune is a trademark of Stars and Stripes Omnimedia , Inc.,and is separate and distinct from publication under the same name as published by the Department of Defense. 
 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
March 21, 2001 



Chairman Smith Hails 12% Funding Increase For Veterans As A "Breakthrough Budget Increase"

Budget Committee Agrees to Increase Veterans' Funding By $1 Billion More Than the New Administration's Budget Proposal


(Washington, DC) - After a two-month, full-court press by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for increased funding of veterans' services, the Chairman, Chris Smith of New Jersey, today hailed the decision of the Budget Committee to increase funding by 12% for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, up $5.6 billion over last year - including $1 billion more than the Bush Administration's budget proposal - calling it a "breakthrough budget increase."

"I have said all along that the Bush budget was a work in progress - and that we would do more," Smith said. "Today's stunning 12% increase in funding is a small price to pay compared to the personal sacrifices made by the men and women who have protected our nation, in peace and in war, and whose lives have forever been changed by their experiences," said Smith. "This victory is a victory for all veterans, especially those who continue to suffer from the disabling effects of war wounds or from lingering mental illnesses connected to their service. They answered the call and now we must do the same," Smith said.

"Since the first days of the 107th Congress, we have relentlessly made the case for increasing funding of veterans' services in light of unconscionable under funding by the Clinton Administration which has exacerbated delays endured by veterans waiting for medical appointments or adjudication of compensation claims," said Smith. "Today's decision by the Budget Committee to increase funding for the Department of Veterans' Affairs by a whopping $5.6 billion - which adds a billion dollars on top of the Administration's proposal - is a breakthrough budget increase that finally begins to address the VA's backlog, as well as provide funding to cover vital unmet services for the men and women who have so bravely worn the uniform in defense of our freedom," he said.

Last month, the Veterans' Affairs Committee in a unanimous and bipartisan vote, backed Chairman Smith's recommendation that funding for the Department be increased by $2.4 billion above the prior year's outlays, up to approximately $53 billion. Today's action by the Budget Committee providing a 12% increase over last years mark allocates most of the funding recommended and endorsed by the entire Veterans' Affairs Committee. 

"I am particularly gratified by the willingness of Chairman Nussle, the Speaker, Majority Leader and others in the leadership, to work with us on this budget," said Smith. "In the end, we were able to persuade them with the facts - the need is real, the obligation is sacred and the time is now," he said.

Under the Budget Committee's resolution, the overall spending on veterans' services will rise by $5.6 billion, a 12% increase from fiscal year 2001 spending. Record increases in spending for medical care will compensate for inflation, as well as allow for significant increases in spending on mental health care, long term care, additional staff to reduce waiting times, higher pharmacy costs, spinal cord injury care, homeless veteran transitional housing and emergency care. Additional funds will also be provided for research and construction, state nursing home and cemetery grants, veterans' benefits administration and national cemetery administration.

"Working together, our committee has identified hundreds of very specific and well-justified areas within the Department's budget where targeted increases can make a substantial and immediate difference in the lives of veterans," said Smith. "We owe it not just to those who have already served, but also to the men and women who today are on the front lines in Korea, Bosnia, Guantanomo Bay and on bases and ships around the world, ready to risk their lives in defense of freedom. They must know with absolute certainty that promises made, will be promises kept," he said.

Smith also hailed the inclusion of additional funds to cover mandatory increases which will be necessitated upon approval of two bills he is proposing, including, H.R. 801, the Veterans' Opportunities Act, and H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act, which was marked up in a meeting of the Veterans' Affairs Committee today. 

"I am particularly pleased to see that the Budget Committee has already committed specific funds in this year's budget to immediately implement H.R. 801, the Veteran's Opportunities Act," said Smith. "This legislation will provide overdue increases to cover the rising costs of many urgently needed veterans' services, such as adaptive automobile and housing grants for severely disabled veterans," he said.

Smith's legislation, H.R. 801, will also expand the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance program to include spouses and children, increase the maximum benefit from $200,000 to $250,000 and make it retroactive to October 1, 2000, in order to include those men and women who have recently lost their lives in tragic military accidents.

The Budget Committee also included funding to cover Chairman Smith's proposal to modernize the Montgomery G.I. Bill, which provides education benefits for servicemembers. Under the Chairman's proposal, expected to be unveiled next week, the monthly benefit will be increased to a level that allows a qualified recipient to cover the monthly costs of attending a state college as a commuter. (From $650 to 1100 per month for each of 36 months.)

The Committee on Veterans' Affairs today also approved Smith's bill to provide immediate emergency funding to repair and rebuild dilapidated VA medical care facilities. The legislation, H.R. 811, will provide $550 million over the next two years for the Department of Veterans' Affairs to immediately address urgent construction needs, specifically in facilities identified as having patient safety hazards, requiring seismic protection, or to improve privacy or accommodations for disabled veterans.
 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 21, 2001 


HOUSE VA COMMITTEE ACTS ON  BENEFITS, HOSPITAL REPAIR BILLS

Full House Consideration Expected Before Spring District Work Period

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Veterans' Affairs Committee approved Wednesday two key bills designed to authorize funding for emergency VA hospital repairs and to upgrade education, burial, disability, pension and transition benefits.

VA Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) said H.R. 801, the Veterans Opportunities Act of 2001, and H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act, are scheduled for full House action before the spring district work period.

The major provisions of H.R. 801 would:

* Expand the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program to cover spouses up to a maximum of $100,000 and children to $10,000;
* Include certain private technology entities in the definition of educational institutions;
* Permit veterans to use VA educational benefits for a certificate program offered by an institution by way of independent study;
* Authorize the VA to maintain transition assistance offices overseas;
* Increase VA outreach efforts to eligible veterans and dependents;
* Increase the burial and funeral benefit from $1,500 to $2,000 for service connected veterans and from $300 to $500 to non service connected veterans, and the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300;
* Increase the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans from $8,000 to $9,000, the adapted housing grant from $43,000 to $48,000, and increase the amount for future necessary adaptions to the home from $8,250 to $9,250.

H.R. 811 authorizes $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003 for major medical facility repair and construction projects. The bill directs the VA Secretary to determine the projects based on the recommendations of an internal capital investment board. The criteria would include possible seismic damage. With two exceptions, no project could exceed $25 million.

VETERANS OPPORTUNITIES ACT OF 2001 



H.R. 801, AS AMENDED 

TITLE: To amend title 38, United States Code, to improve programs of educational assistance, to expand programs of transition assistance and outreach to departing servicemembers, veterans, and dependents, to increase burial benefits, to provide for family coverage under Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, and for other purposes. 

Mr. SMITH (for himself, Mr. EVANS, Mr. HAYWORTH, and Mr. REYES) introduced H.R. 801 on February 28, 2001; which was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. 

ADDITIONAL COSPONSORS: Mr. ABERCROMBIE, Mr. BALDACCI, Ms. BERKLEY, Mr. BILIRAKIS, Ms. BROWN (of Florida), Mr. BROWN (of South Carolina), Mr. BUYER, Ms. CARSON, Mr. CRENSHAW, Mr. DOYLE, Mr. EDWARDS, Mr. EHRLICH, Mr. FILNER, Mr. GONZALEZ, Mr. GOODE, Mr. GUTIERREZ, Mr. HANSEN, Mr. HONDA, Ms. KELLY, Mr. LEE, Mr. OWENS, Mr. PASCRELL, Mr. PETERSON, Mr. PUTNAM, Ms. ROUKEMA, Mr. SHOWS, Mr. SIMMONS, Mr. SIMPSON, Mr. SNYDER, Ms. SOLIS, Mr. SPENCE, Mr. STUMP, Mr. UDALL (of New Mexico), and Ms. WATERS 

H.R. 801, as amended, would: 

TITLE I – EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE PROVISIONS 
1. Increase from $2,000 to $3,400 the maximum allowable annual SROTC award for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill. 

2. Expand VA’s work-study program for veterans to include working in their major academic discipline, working in state veterans homes, and helping State Approving Agencies with outreach efforts. 

3. Provide for inclusion of certain private technology entities in the definition of educational institution. 

4. Allow the disabled spouse or surviving spouse of a severely disabled service connected veteran to receive special restorative training. 

5. Permit veterans to use VA educational assistance benefits for a certificate program offered by an accredited institution of higher learning by way of independent study. 

TITLE II – TRANSITION AND OUTREACH PROVISIONS 
1. Provide VA the authority to maintain transition assistance offices overseas. 

2. Extend the time that preseparation counseling is available to servicemembers leaving the service to as early as 12 months before discharge, and 24 months prior to discharge for military retirees. 

3. Improve education and training outreach services by requiring each State Approving Agency to conduct outreach programs and provide services to eligible veterans and dependents about state and federal education and training benefits. 

4. For purposes of VA’s outreach program, defines an eligible dependent as the spouse, surviving spouse, child or dependent parent of a servicemember/veteran. Require VA to ensure that eligible dependents are made aware of VA’s services through media and veterans publications. 

5. Require VA to provide to the veteran or eligible dependent information concerning VA benefits and services whenever that person first applies for any benefit. 

TITLE III – MEMORIAL AFFAIRS, INSURANCE, AND OTHER PROVISIONS 
1. Increase the burial and funeral expense for a service connected veteran from $1,500 to $2,000, increase the burial and funeral expense for a nonservice connected veteran from $300 to $500, and increase the burial plot allowance from $150 to $300. 

2. Expand the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program to include spouses and children. Spousal coverage will not exceed $100,000; child coverage would be $10,000. Upon termination of SGLI, the spouse’s policy could be converted to a private life insurance policy. 

3. Make the effective date of an increase from $200,000 to $250,000 in the maximum SGLI benefit provided for in Public Law 106-419 retroactive to October 1, 2000, for a servicemember who died in the performance of duty and had the maximum amount of insurance in force. 

4. Increase the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans from $8,000 to $9,000. 

5. Increase the grant for specially adapted housing for severely disabled veterans from $43,000 to $48,000, and increase the amount for less severely disabled veterans from $8,250 to $9,250. 

6. Revise the rule with respect to the net worth limitation for VA’s means-tested pension program by excluding the value of property used for farming, ranching or similar agricultural purposes. 

EFFECTIVE DATE: Date of enactment except the following sections 
Sec. 106(a): Shall take effect as if included in the enactment of the Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvement Act of 2000 enacted on November 1, 2000 (Public Law 106-419).

Sec. 106(b): Shall take effect as if enacted on November 1, 2000.

Sec. 106(c): Shall take effect as if enacted on November 1, 2000.

Sec. 106(d): May 1, 2001.

Sec. 106(e): Shall take effect as if enacted on November 1, 2000.

Sec. 302: The first day of the first month that begins more than 120 days after date of enactment. 

COST: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that H.R. 801, as amended, would increase direct spending by $46 million in 2002, $290 million over the 2002-2006 period, and about $700 million over the 2002-2011 period. Direct spending would also increase in fiscal year 2001 should the bill be enacted before the end of this fiscal year. In addition, implementing the bill would increase spending subject to appropriation by less than $500,000 a year. 

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY:

March 21, 2001: H.R. 801 ordered reported favorably, as amended, by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. 

March 26, 2001: H.R. 801 reported, as amended, by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. H. Rept. 107-27. 
 

VETERANS HOSPITAL EMERGENCY REPAIR ACT 



H.R. 811, AS AMENDED 

TITLE: To provide the Department of Veterans’ Affairs authorization for, and authorize appropriations to support, major medical facilities construction projects in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. 

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey (for himself, Mr. EVANS, Mr. MORAN of Kansas, Mr. FILNER, Mr. STUMP, Mr. REYES, Mr. BILIRAKIS, Mr. STEARNS, Mr. BAKER, Mr. SIMMONS, Mr. BROWN of South Carolina, and Mr. BUYER) introduced H.R. 811 on March 1, 2001. 

ADDITIONAL COSPONSORS: Ms. BERKLEY, Ms. CARSON, Mr. FOLEY, Mr. GUTIERREZ, Mr. HONDA, Mr. OWENS, Mr. PETERSON of Minnesota, Ms. ROUKEMA, Mr. SHOWS, Mr. SNYDER, Ms. SOLIS, Mr. SPENCE, and Mr. UDALL of New Mexico 

H.R. 811, as amended would: 

1. Authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out major medical facility construction projects in fiscal years 2002 and 2003, and would authorize appropriations of $250 million in fiscal year 2002 and $300 million in fiscal year 2003 for these purposes. 

2. Authorize the Secretary to select patient care projects (and in certain circumstances, research facilities) for construction under this authority not to exceed $25 million for any single project; the Secretary could select two seismic correction projects in each of the two years estimated to cost up to $30 million. 

3. Limit the type of projects that could be funded under this authority to projects that would improve, replace, renovate or update facilities, including research facilities for patient safety, seismic protection, privacy, and accommodation for disabilities. 

4. Authorize the Secretary to improve the various high-priority special disabilities programs of the Department. 

5. Require the Secretary to consider recommendations of VA’s independent board that reviews capital investment proposals in selecting projects under this authority. 

6. Permit the Secretary to use the Advance Planning Fund to design projects selected under the purposes of this bill. 

7. Require the Secretary and the Comptroller General to make reports to Congress on projects selected under this authority, their purposes and costs, the results of the authorization process, and recommendations for amending or extending this authority, and other appropriate recommendations. 

EFFECTIVE DATE: Date of enactment. 

COST: The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of H.R. 811, as amended, to be $506 million over the 2002-2006 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts. Because the bill would not affect direct spending or receipts, pay-as-you-go procedures would not apply. 

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: 

March 21, 2001: H.R. 811 ordered reported favorably, as amended, by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. 

March 26, 2001: H.R. 811 reported by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, H. Rept. 107-28. 
 

IMMEDIATE RELEASE  
March 27, 2001



House Passes Two Smith Bills To Repair Hospitals and Aid Disabled Veterans New Veterans' Committee Chairman Gets Quick House Action on Legislation

(Washington, DC) - Aging, at-risk VA hospitals will get more than a half  billion dollars of emergency repairs under legislation written by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and approved by a vote of 417 to 0 last night in the House of Representatives.

The Smith legislation, H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act, and a second Smith bill to help disabled veterans, widows of veterans and soon-to-be separated veterans (H.R.801, the Veterans Opportunities Act), now move to the Senate for their approval.

"Too many of our nation's VA health care centers are at-risk; some, like the American Lake facility in Tacoma, from seismic damage, others, like the Lyons facility in New Jersey, simply from age and physical deterioration. Last night's action is the first major step by the 107th Congress to ensure
that we continue to provide world-class health care for veterans in the next century," said Smith. 

"We cannot afford to wait once again for new studies, commissions or reports; the time for action is now and I am gratified to see that my colleagues in the House have unanimously supported my legislation to address
this urgent problem," said Smith.

"H.R. 811, the Veterans' Hospitals Emergency Repair Act, provides immediate funding to address some of the VA's most pressing needs by providing $550 million over two years for construction projects to repair, rebuild or upgrade dilapidated medical facilities ," he said.  "Medical facilities, including East Orange and Lyons could receive funding, up to $30 million each, based upon very specific criteria we have laid out in my legislation,
including mitigating physical safety hazards, modernizing facilities to accommodate the disabled and women privacy needs, and upgrading specialized treatment units, such as geriatrics," he said.

Smith said that his second bill approved last night, H.R. 801, the Veterans'             Opportunities Act, which also passed unanimously (417 to 0), "targets additional funding and assistance to veterans' and their survivors most in need, such as disabled veterans who require specially adaptive housing or automobiles."

"One of my priorities as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee is to insure that current and future benefits actually match the level of need in the 21st century," said Smith.  "With approval of my legislation, H.R. 801, we provide much-needed assistance to disabled veterans, surviving spouses as well as servicemembers preparing to leave the military for a civilian life," he said.

As passed by the House last night, Smith's Veterans Opportunities Act would:

MEMORIAL AFFAIRS, INSURANCE, AND OTHER PROVISION
* Increase the automobile and adaptive equipment grant for severely disabled veterans from $8,000 to $9.000.

* Increase the grant for specially adapted housing for severely disabled veterans from $43,000 to $48,000, and increase the amount for less severely disabled veterans from $8,250 to $9,250.
* Increase the burial and funeral allowance made to the family of veterans who die from service-connected causes from $1,500 to $2,000, increase the burial and funeral allowances for nonservice-connected veterans
from $300 to $500, and increase the burial plot allowances from $150 to $300.
* Expand the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program to include spouses and children.  Spousal coverage will not exceed $100,000; child coverage would be $10,000.  Upon termination of SGLI, the spouse's policy could be converted to a private life insurance policy.
* Make the effective date of an increase from $200,000 to $250,000 in the maximum SGLI benefit provided for in Public Law 106-419 retroactive to  October 1,. 2000, for a servicemember who died in the performance of duty and had the maximum amount of insurance in force.

EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE
* Increase from $2,000 to $3,400 the maximum allowable annual SROTC award for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill.
* Expand VA's work-study program for veterans to include working in their major academic discipline, working in state veterans homes, and helping State Approving Agencies with outreach efforts.
* Provide for inclusion of certain private technology entities in the definition of education institution.
* Allow the disabled spouse or surviving spouse of a severely disabled service connected veteran to receive special restorative training.
* Permit veterans to use VA education assistance benefits for a certificate program offered by an accredited institution of higher learning by way of independent study.

TRANSITION AND OUTREACH PROVISIONS
* Provide VA the authority to maintain transition assistance offices overseas.
* Extend the time that pre-separation counseling is available to servicemembers leaving the service to as early as 12 months before
discharge, and 24 months prior to discharge for military retirees.
* Improve education and training outreach services by requiring each
State Approving Agency to conduct outreach programs and provide services to eligible veterans and dependents about state and federal education and training benefits.
* For purposes of VA's outreach programs, defines an eligible dependent as the spouse surviving spouse, child or dependent parent of a servicemember or veteran.  Require VA to ensure that eligible dependents are made aware of VA's services through media and veterans publications.
* Require VA to provide to the veteran or eligible dependent information concerning VA benefits and services whenever that person first applies of any benefit.
 

M E M O R A N D U M




TO: Action E-List

FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director

SUBJ:
IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED ON CONCURRENT RECEIPT

DATE: March 28, 2001

I have attached a copy of a letter that Commander Albarran wrote to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert on the issue of concurrent receipt. 

The United States House of Representatives is currently debating the Budget Resolution, which will be the plan for spending on Government programs next year. We are now pressing for passage of H.R. 303 to authorize the concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation. If our campaign to pass this legislation is to be successful, the Budget Resolution must include the funding necessary to cover the costs of H.R. 303. 

We have posted an alert and a letter to Speaker Hastert on our web site at www.dav.org. Please click on "Legislative Action & You," then follow the directions in the first alert to send this letter.

As always, thank you for your continued support on this important issue.



____________________________
JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director
 

Drive for Concurrent Receipt Hits 'Further Study' Snag
Mar. 28, 2001
Dave Eberhart
Stars and Stripes Veterans Affairs Editor


Advocates of concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation were disappointed last week when the House Budget Committee adopted an amendment calling for further study rather than a proposal to fully fund concurrent receipt offered by perennial champion Mike Bilirakis, R-Fla.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas , introduced the substitute amendment to a House Budget resolution for fiscal 2002 that would require the secretary of defense to report to Congress on the desirability of concurrent receipt along with an analysis of how concurrent receipt issues are handled for other federal retirees.

Senior Master Sgt. Vincent B. Niski (USAF-ret.), national president of The Retired Enlisted Association, responded quickly to the delay. "The time is now for retired pay restoration, and we don't need any more studies from the same DoD that has opposed concurrent receipt under many administrations, Democratic and Republican alike."

"This is a ploy Congress has used several times in the past to delay action on this subject," said veterans ' advocate Dan Pettigrew. "In each case, the Pentagon report has recommended against implementation for cost and other reasons."

Losing the Skirmish

"But losing this first skirmish is a long way from losing the battle," he dded. "Another effort is expected when the Senate takes up the budget resolution the first week in April."

"This is not good news for veterans," said Gordon Sumner, national director of the 82nd Airborne Division Association . "I encourage everyone to get on the phone, e-mails, faxes.... It's our earned money they are continuing to take away. This has got to stop, so get the word out to everyone you know."

The Pentagon report, under Thornberry's bill, would "address the number of individuals retired from the Armed Forces who would otherwise be eligible for disability compensation; the comparability of the policy of the Office of Personnel Management guidelines for civilian Federal retirees; the applicability of this policy to prevailing private sector standards ; the number of individuals potentially eligible for concurrent benefits who receive other forms of federal assistance and the cost of that assistance; and alternative initiatives that would accomplish the same end as concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., is a co-sponsor of S. 170, a concurrent receipt bill introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., which is a companion bill to Bilirakis's H.R. 303.

A law prohibiting the concurrent receipt of military retirement pay and disability compensation was adopted shortly after the end of the Civil War, when the country's standing army was small.


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