Director, Government Relations
And Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees
Chairman Rockefeller, Chairman
Smith, Ranking Member Specter, Ranking Member Evans, distinguished members of
the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)
is grateful for the opportunity to present our most pressing concerns regarding
the vital needs of veterans to you and your distinguished colleagues. Mr.
Chairman, I would be grateful if you would enter our prepared statement into the
record, and I will try to summarize some of our major concerns.
Mr. Chairman, VVA asks that
you and your colleagues join VVA in urging the President and the Secretary of
Defense to take all steps necessary to determine the fate as well as to secure
the repatriation of Lt. Cmdr. Michael A. Speicher at the earliest possible
date. We need action now not many years later as happened with those serving
in Vietnam. There is credible evidence emerging that he was alive when he
reached the ground. Our national leadership must act on this matter.
VVA also urges the appropriate
committees of Congress to investigate why this information was not acted upon
immediately and was withheld until a news account appeared in the British press.
We must secure the answers for Lt. Cmdr. Speicher’s family and be able assure
the young men and women in uniform today that they will not be abandoned.
Department of Veterans
Affairs FY 2002 Budget Resources
For the FY02 VA budget, last
year VVA strongly recommended that Congress allocate not less than $1.7 billion
above the level for FY2001, just to keep pace with inflation at the Veterans
Health Administration (VHA). We recommended an additional $600 million to
restore organizational capacity (particularly in the specialized services) that
has been lost since 1996. We predicted that unless those funding targets were
met, the VA would be forced to cutback services for veterans across the country.
That prediction came to pass in the fall of 2001 when VA instructed each network
to identify at least 2% “efficiencies” (i.e., a euphemism for cuts) in the
existing budget and reduce services and programs accordingly. Substance abuse,
PTSD, and other services were cut back across the nation, to the detriment of
Part of that same crisis was
narrowly avoided when stopping enrollment of Category 7 veterans was averted
just prior to the November 29, 2001, meeting with the VSOs. Secretary Principi
made a final appeal to the White House for at least $142 million for the FY02
budget. Without those funds, Secretary Principi would have been forced to end
enrollment of Category 7 veterans effective November 30, 2001. Faced with the
prospect of turning away tens of thousands of veterans from the VA healthcare
system, the administration assured Secretary Principi that the money would be
found. Had the administration—and here we specifically mean OMB and the senior
White House political staff—listened to VVA and our fellow VSO’s early on in the
budget process, this problem could have been avoided.
On February 27, 2002,
then-Acting Undersecretary for Health Dr. Frances Murphy informed the VSO’s that
she had released $162 million in Central Office funds for use by the networks.
That money, combined with the aforementioned $142 million, would, in the words
of the VA’s Dr. Laura Miller, prevent further layoffs at “most” VA facilities.
Thus, even the $304 million outlined above would still not be adequate to
prevent further reductions-in-force through attrition, much less restore lost
In fact, the shortfall in VHA
funding this year is approximately $700 million. Every VHA facility in the
country is in a layoff mode and has been since last summer. So- called
“management efficiencies” are nothing more than cutting staff and reducing
services further. At minimum, “layoffs by attrition” will result in an overall
cut of 5-7% of VHA staff by this, if supplemental funding is not provided. The
overall effect on morale is devastating, which increases the burnout rate of the
most caring clinicians, and a push to leave VA no matter how committed they are
to serving veterans. Military callups of Guard and Reserve clinicians has
further depleted the ranks of VHA. In short, we need a supplemental
appropriation of $700 million for FY02 right now.
Department of Veterans
Affairs FY 2003 Budget Resources
We are very pleased and
grateful that the House Budget committee has suggested an increase in the FY
2003 budget for VHA operating funds to a total of $23.9 billion. Your proposal
represents the first realistic effort in years to provide the additional
appropriated dollars necessary to reverse the decline in organizational capacity
and restore vitally needed services for our most vulnerable veterans. We are
grateful to Chairman Nussle, Ranking Democrat Spratt, and the members on the
House Budget Committee for this action.
VVA is proud to endorse the
Independent Budget of the Veterans Service Organizations (IBVSO). We commend
AMVETS, DAV, PVA, and the VFW for the extraordinary job they do on this document
that has earned credibility on Capitol Hill.
Regarding the administration’s
FY 2003 request, I will reiterate what we told the House Veterans’ Affairs
Committee at the February 13 hearing: VHA needs at least $25.5 billion in real,
appropriated dollars—not phantom dollars from “projected” third-party
reimbursements—just to maintain the VA’s current capabilities. This is the same
amount requested by the IBVSO. VVA believes that an additional $750 million is
needed, over and above inflation and other increases, to begin restoration of
organizational capacity that has been lost since 1996 and to adequately prepare
for the “Fourth Mission.”
VVA believes it is time for
Congress to make healthcare spending for Category 1-6 veterans an entitlement
program, just as Congress has already made healthcare spending for military
retirees an entitlement through TRICARE and related programs.
VVA certainly believes that
high-quality, easily accessible medical care for service-connected non-retiree
veterans is an earned right, not an “optional program.” Money for such an
important service must be put into a predictable, stable funding stream,
insulated from the budgetary twists and turns of the annual fight over limited
Additionally, to ensure that
such a mandatory funding program is implemented in a rational fashion, the VA
must establish a priority ranking system for treating veterans to ensure that
those with the greatest disabilities and most in need are seen first. At the
February 27, VHA/VSO meeting, VHA representatives indicated that appointment
waiting times for existing patients average 38 days; new patients are waiting 60
days or more for their first visit. Reports reaching us, and our experience with
hospitals from Miami to Washington state, indicate that the VHA “official”
average” of delays is significantly less than what is actually occurring.
Moreover, VA cannot tell the VSOs or the Congress how many service-connected
veterans are waiting to be seen by a doctor. VA’s current “first come, first
serve” approach to healthcare must give way to a genuine needs-based approach to
VVA has vigorously opposed the
CARES process as currently constituted. After ostensibly seeking public comment
on the very flawed process used in the so-called pilot in Veterans Integrated
Service Network 12 (Illinois, Wisconsin, and small parts of Michigan and
Minnesota), VA ignored all of the public comments and is moving ahead with this
flawed plan based on this flawed process. This plan would reduce SCMI inpatient
capacity beds by another 146 beds, from what is already a level below the
capacity of FY1996. This flies in the face of the 1996 law, reiterated
explicitly in the 2001 law. VVA contends that VA does not have the right to
implement a plan that is on the face illegal. VVA urges Congress to stop the
hasty rush to facilities and services.
VVA is NOT against a
reasonable capital realignment effort that begins with a true assessment of the
veterans healthcare needs of the population in a given area, and involves the
veterans community and all elements of VHA staff. VVA is against a rush job
such as CARES as currently designed. We must ensure that proper stewardship of
the national resource that is the Veterans Health Administration is preserved
and protected by halting this rash slashing and cutting. Once these additional
SCMI resources are gone, they will never be restored.
One other area of the VA
budget requires mention: funds dedicated to the “fourth mission” are inadequate
to meet mission-critical needs. Put quite simply, in case of an attack resulting
in 5,000 or more casualties at one time in any given congressional district, the
civilian medical system would be overwhelmed and the VHA medical facilities
would implode. Many American citizens would suffer and die needlessly. Our
understanding is that of the roughly $28 billion allocated for homeland
security, VA’s share was a paltry $77 million.
More than half of the United
States military hospitals that existed in the continental United States at the
end of the Gulf War are still in operation, many at an even more reduced level
that the VA medical facilities. The private and nonveteran public-sector
hospitals are also many fewer in number than ten years ago. VVA believes that
VA needs at least ten times that figure just to begin to meet a mass casualty
scenario requiring VA intervention. Training and preparation in how to handle
biological warfare, chemical warfare, and nuclear warfare injuries is virtually
nonexistent at VHA.
We urge the committee to work
with other committees of jurisdiction in the House to ensure that the VA is
properly resourced to meet its responsibilities as part of the National Disaster
Medical System. VVA believes that the $500 million to start restoration of
capacity would cover many of the needs in Seriously and Chronically Mentally Ill
services as well as preparation for the fourth mission.
VVA is strongly committed
to holistic care for veterans, with a concerted effort to keep veterans as
healthy, independent, and autonomous as possible. To do this, VA must do a
better job of examining veterans, particularly for all of the maladies and
conditions that may be related to their military service. Key to this is
changing the corporate culture of VHA staff from being just a general healthcare
system that happens to be for veterans instead of what their real mission is—a
veterans healthcare system that concentrates on the wounds of war and of
military service. For this to happen, a complete military history needs to be
taken of every veteran, and used to indicate follow-up tests based on when,
where, and what branch the veteran served.
In regards to
specific health care issues, VVA strongly supports hearings and prompt passage
of H.R. 639, the Veterans Hepatitis C Comprehensive Health Care Act, introduced
by Congressman Freylinghuysen (R-N.J.) and co-sponsored by more than 60 members
of both parties, to ensure that resources and quality assurance actually reach
the service-delivery level where needed. Additionally, VVA strongly favors
action to confirm hepatitis C as a presumptively service-connected condition
and we ask that you work with us on a bipartisan basis to develop proper
legislation regarding service-connected presumption for hepatitis C before the
107th Congress ends.
The administration has requested $409
million for the VA research budget in FY 2003, an approximately $38 million
increase from FY 2002. VVA will support this request if the committee issues
report language mandating that VA approve only those research projects directly
relevant to the specific health concerns or service-related exposures of
Moreover, new research projects should
only be funded if the researchers collect the full military medical history of
veterans involved in the study. We believe such prescriptive measures are the
only way to begin changing the VA Research and Development Office’s corporate
culture, which currently seems to view the VA’s research mission as one largely
dedicated to general medical research, rather than one focused on medical
research specific to and relevant for veterans. Despite continuing efforts of
VVA leaders to help this section of VHA understand the importance of this
refocusing of efforts, persuasion and intellectual arguments have not worked.
Therefore, we ask Congress to mandate such a proper focus.
More broadly, VVA believes it is well past
time for a complete reevaluation of both DoD’s and VA’s role in medical
research. VVA recognizes that the VA has established a reputation for providing
advanced care for blinded veterans and for those with severe ambulatory
impairments. However, the VA has never truly developed a corporate culture
focused on the diagnosis and treatment of the full range of environmental and
occupational hazards unique to military service.
This is especially true of the VA’s
Research and Development Office, where the overwhelming majority of VA-funded
research programs are geared towards medical problems found in the general
population, without a perfunctory nod toward how veterans may have conditions
that differ from nonveterans.
Just as VA healthcare should be
veteran-focused, so, also, should VA medical research. VVA believes it is long
past time to end the DoD-VA monopoly on the control of funds allocated for
military and veteran-related medical research. To end this conflict of interest
and restore integrity to the process of investigating and treating veterans
medical conditions, last year VVA called for the creation of a National
Institute of Veterans Health (NIVH) within the NIH.
Veterans Equitable Resource Allocation
We share your
concern that VA is still not properly accounting for or using appropriated
monies. We read with considerable interest GAO’s February 2002 report on VERA,
which focused on how money disbursed from the VA Central Office is allocated to
the Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) directors. We believe that GAO
was very much on the mark when pointed out that:
about one fifth of VA’s workload in determining each network’s allocation. The
excluded veterans are those with higher incomes who do not have
service-connected disabilities. Second, VERA does not account for cost
differences among networks resulting from variation in their patients’ health
care needs as well as it could” (GAO 02-338, VA Resource Allocation,
Unfortunately, Congress did not
ask GAO to evaluate how the money is spent after it arrives at the network. VVA
believes it is vital that such an evaluation be done immediately, given what GAO
has already reported about the VA’s failure to properly account for the $535
million allocated since FY 2000 for hepatitis C virus (HCV) screening, testing,
Almost one year ago, GAO
informed the House Appropriations Committee that the VA had “significantly
understated” the difference between its FY 2000 budget and reported HCV program
expenditures, to the tune of nearly $150 million. GAO opined that “management
decisions” were a major contributing factor in the VA’s failure both to account
for the money and to screen and treat veterans effectively for HCV. According
- VHA included HCV funds as
part of its general medical care resource distribution process, without
clearly communicating how much money was available for HCV programs. As a
result, HCV screening and testing activities varied widely across the VA
system, with local managers generally taking a very conservative approach for
fear of overspending on HCV programs.
- VHA failed to establish
performance targets for network directors regarding HCV screening, testing,
and treatment. In response to the GAO report, VHA pledged to include such
performance targets in its FY 2003 budget submission. VVA staff carefully
evaluated the HCV portion of the budget submission (Vol. 2, pp. 2-132
through 2-134) and found no mention whatsoever of HCV program
performance targets for the network directors.
Based on this failure by VA,
VVA believes that the Congress must take steps to mandate VA to recentralize
funding for specialized services, as well as services for homeless veterans and
veterans with hepatitis C.
While VVA applauds the efforts
of Secretary Principi to develop better financial tracking and
management-information tools, we must move more quickly to implement
accountability mechanisms at the Central Office level, in order to ensure that
appropriate dollars are spent on the programs they were designed to fund.
In VVA’s view, the first three
steps in this process are:
One, there is a
pressing need to centralize funding and control over each of the specialized
services, in a manner similar to what has happened in prosthetics. Only since
prosthetics has been
recentralized have the problems in this area abated. There is a pressing need
to centralize other specialized services, such as Seriously & Chronically
Mentally Ill (SCMI), PTSD treatment, spinal cord injury services, and blind and
Control and faith placed in the
VISN directors to do the right thing and stay in compliance with the 1996
Veterans Eligibility Reform Act simply has not worked. No matter what face VHA
tries to put on this issue, it has reduced the organizational capacity in all of
the specialized services below the FY 1996 level.
Two, VVA urges you to work with
the Secretary and give him statutory authority, if necessary, so that he ensure
that VISN Directors, VAMC Directors, managers, supervisors, and others are held
much more accountable for performance. The same is true on the VBA side of the
VA, in that VA Regional Office Directors, managers, and supervisors should be
held accountable for the accuracy and fairness of claims decisions and the
proper actions of their Vocational Rehabilitation people in truly assisting
Three, VVA urges both the House
and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees to hold oversight hearings on what the
VA said they were going to do in FY2000 in the narrative that accompanied their
budget request. Since the Congress gave them a great deal more than they asked
for, the problem cannot be lack of resources.
Vietnam Veterans of America
asks that this committee take steps to ensure the VA Readjustment Counseling
Service, popularly known as the VA Vet Centers, are accorded at least 250 more
FTEE and at least another $17 million for FY2003, as compared to FY 2001. The
Vet Center program has been perhaps the most studied program at VA over the last
20 years, and endures as a low-cost, highly effective, and cost-efficient
program that helps many veterans overcome problems that get in the way of
finding and keeping a job, and help reunite and keep families together. The
additional FTEE would create a full-time family counselor at each of the 206 Vet
Centers, as well as allow the most overwhelmed Vet Centers an additional staff
member. The demand for services from the Vet Centers is up by 3 percent for
FY2001, FY00 and FY99 over the previous year. Early reports indicate demand for
services is up dramatically, by as much as 15 percent, since the 9/11 attacks.
Much of that need is for children and spouses of veterans. Just as important,
there are many veterans of all generations who will use one of the Vet Centers
but will not go near a Veterans Administration Medical Center. That is likely to
be true of those now serving as well.
Veterans of America asks that you take steps to insure that both inpatient and
residential care treatment for veterans with chronic, acute Post-traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) is available in each of the 22 VISNs and that overall
resources in this area be
restored at least to the
levels of FY 1996. We also ask that you take all necessary steps to restore
substance-abuse treatment programs.
Regarding Gulf War
illnesses, VVA was pleased that Secretary Principi moved to compensate veterans
(or their survivors) suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The
Secretary did this in advance of the publication of research showing that Desert
Storm veterans suffer from this fatal neurological disease at twice the rate of
their nondeployed colleagues. We remain troubled, however, that the Secretary
has not issued regulations formally declaring ALS a service-connected
presumptive condition, and we hope that your committees will take up this issue
with Secretary Principi at the earliest possible moment.
Department of Defense (DOD) and
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare Sharing
VVA believes that any discussion of this subject must begin by facing one
central fact: the purposes of the two medical systems (and therefore their
missions, corporate culture, and mind-set) are very different, and that
therefore the needs of each system must be tailored to the needs of the specific
population it serves. Ignoring this reality guarantees that any legislative
initiative designed to improve coordination will ultimately fail to meet its
VVA agrees with Dr. Gail
Wilensky, chairperson of the Presidential Task Force to Improve Healthcare for
Our Nation’s Veterans, who noted in her testimony before Congress on March 7
that focusing on facility collocation as an end product of DoD/VA sharing would
be a major mistake.
At present, DoD and VA employ
two completely different means of deciding which patients will be seen in what
order. Military treatment facilities use a very defined set of priorities and
categories for treating patients; VA employs a “first-come, first-served” model.
For the entire beneficiary population, this is the issue of greatest importance.
Who is first in line for care: the two-tour, double-amputee Vietnam veteran, or
the 25-year retiree who suffers from Gulf War illnesses? In our view, the way to
avoid this problem is to properly fund both healthcare systems so that all
veterans can be served in a timely fashion.
support efforts at joint procurement, where practical: pharmaceuticals, medical
and surgical supplies, and other equipment and supplies that can be purchased in
bulk for the benefit of both agencies. VVA has long championed a single,
life-long, and comprehensive military medical and service record for all
veterans. This is clearly another area where DoD and VA must make progress; only
consistent (and insistent) congressional oversight will produce results in this
area. Graduate medical education is very probably another area where
greater coordination is both possible and needed. Overall, however, we would
urge the Congress to await the publication of the Presidential Task Force’s
interim report before attempting to legislate increased DoD/VA sharing in a
National Institute for
Veterans Health (NIVH)
We urge this distinguished
Committee to work with other committees of jurisdiction to establish a new NIVH
within the National Institutes of Health, which would assume the lead role (and
accompanying resources) in investigating medical conditions affecting veterans,
to include “human factors” research relevant to military safety issues. Such
NIVH authorizing legislation must mandate that veteran advocates serve as full
voting members on the peer-review panels that make research funding decisions,
alongside scientists who understand veteran health issues. VVA believes Congress
could create a research institute that would be truly focused on the unique
medical needs of veterans. Locating the NIVH within NIH would ensure that the
full medical resources of the federal government and private sector could be
marshaled in a rational, veteran-friendly environment, free of the politics and
conflicts that for more than 20 years have precluded effective research This
NIVH also would have the specific authority and responsibility to ensure that
veteran-specific topics are adequately explored by all institutes within NIH.
Declassification of Military Records
No matter what other mechanism
for research is created by the Congress, pertinent records must be declassified
and available to make any system work. VVA urges creation of a congressionally
directed, mandatory declassification review panel, whose purpose would be to
screen (on both a historical and an ongoing basis) and declassify any
operational or intelligence records for evidence of data that would have an
impact on the health and welfare of American veterans. The need for such an
entity—completely independent from the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence
Even today, thousands of pages
of Gulf War-related records remain classified. In January 1998, the CIA admitted
that its own internal review had identified over one million classified
documents with potential relevance to Gulf War illnesses. Virtually no documents
associated with the 1960’s-era Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) program have
been declassified, something VVA finds inexplicable given that the tests took
place over 30 years ago. Through the experience of the Kennedy Assassination
Review Commission and similar entities, we have learned that such specialized
declassification panels work well. If we are to be certain that all data that
may affect the health of American veterans are available for veterans and their
physicians, Congress must create a standing declassification review panel. Such
a move would also help to restore trust and confidence among veterans in the
federal government and its response to veteran’s health issues.
VVA has heard that
administration officials are considering issuing a new executive order on
classification that would give executive branch authorities the power to
reclassify previously declassified data. VVA is adamantly opposed to any
regulatory or legislative efforts that restrict the public’s right to know what
actions executive branch officials are engaged in, particularly where the health
and welfare of American military personnel and veterans are concerned. Should
the administration actually promulgate an executive order with such a provision,
VVA will seek legislation that would bar such a practice. We urge the members of
both Veterans’ Affairs Committees to send a strong, unified, bipartisan message
to the White House that any reclassification scheme is unacceptable to Congress.
VVA participated in the
Agent Orange conference in Hanoi earlier this month that will lead to actual
research on the ground in Vietnam. We believe that this research will help
provide some of the answers for which Vietnam veterans and their families have
been searching for years. We are deeply grateful to Congressman Lane Evans as
well as to Senator Daschle and Senator Harkin for their stalwart support of this
In addition to this
research in Vietnam, we need a large scale epidemiological study of Vietnam
veterans and their families to be started now. The Chair of the Institute of
Medicine of the National Academy of Science’s (IOM) most recent biennial study
said this is the most pressing need for the IOM to be able to do their job
correctly. We urge introduction and passage of a bill that will set aside at
least $50 million over a ten-year period to conduct such a study through IOM,
with VA as the intermediary. The actual contract should only be after a
committee that involves veterans has approved the shape of the contract with
IOM, and the Veterans Committees have had at least 60 days to review such
contract. But time is running out for Vietnam veterans and their families. We
need this authorization this year for such a government-funded, privately
conducted, peer-reviewed study. We look forward to working with the committees
on the details of such a bill in the near future.
Benefits and Claims
Regarding the Veterans
Benefits Administration (VBA), VVA believes that high adjudication error rates,
increasing claim backlogs, and undue processing delays cannot be rectified until
higher agency standards of training, uniformity of practice and procedure,
communication, and accountability are implemented. Improvement will require
fundamental changes in the institutional culture of the Veterans Benefits
Administration (VBA) adjudicators and management. As an example, VVA cites
evidentiary development procedures that focus on obtaining negative evidence to
support a denial of benefits. Another example of this poor corporate culture is
the commonly experienced seeming and real indifference of many adjudicators and
Regional Office managers and supervisors to VA laws, regulations, and judicial
Benefits Administration (VBA) should develop and implement standardized claims
submission requirements to ensure timely, consistent, and efficient decision
making. This will require enhanced cooperation between the veterans service
organizations and the VBA. If the BVBA works together with the VSOs, decisions
will be made more quickly and adequately at the administrative level, without
the need for prolonged appellate processes. Adequately developed claims at the
outset will reduce the number of appeals, remanded claims (which, by law, must
be expedited over unadjudicated claims), and backlogs at the regional offices.
It will further reduce the time it takes for veterans and their dependents to
receive vitally needed financial and healthcare benefits. Often, an award of
service connection is a prerequisite to VA health care.
stronger efforts to demand accountability for senior VA officials. Requiring
that there be clear criteria (published at the beginning of each fiscal year)
for bonus awards for each GS 14, 15, SES position, and that the particular
actions taken by an individual to meet or exceed those criteria be easily
available to the public. Further, top management should be held accountable by
the President to seek that the criteria and the actual justifications be honest
and in line with the law and the policies of the Administration.
In regard to military retirees,
VVA strongly supports early passage of proposed concurrent receipt language
offered by Chairman Nussle, of the House Budget Committee, to the House Armed
Services Committee that would bring an end to concurrent receipt for military
retirees. VVA believes there should be no reduction from earned military retiree
pay for disability payments any more than there should be deductions from
civilian retiree pay for disability payments.
VVA also opposes forcing
retirees to choose between their personal healthcare needs and securing
healthcare coverage for their families by forcing them to choose either VA or
TRICARE as their provider. VVA favors allowing military retirees to have the
same access, at the same cost, to Retired Federal Employees Health Care Benefits
(RFEHB) as is accorded to civilian federal retirees.
In regard to the vital needs of homeless
veterans, VVA urges that $60 million be available in FY02 and $75 million in
FY03 for full funding and full implementation of P.L. 107-95, the Homeless
Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act. VVA is grateful to Chairman Smith and
Representative Evans, as well as to Chairman Rockefeller and Senator Specter for
their assistance in securing enactment of this legislation. Now we ask for your
help to make the intent of the bill a reality on the streets.
VVA also urges full funding to
implement numerous important changes in the VA Grant & Per Diem Program.
Increased rates of daily payment would result in improving the access to funding
for the highly cost-efficient, community-based homeless veterans service
providers. VVA also urges restoration and extension of effective alcohol- and
substance abuse programs for homeless veterans and others. Lastly, VVA urges
full funding to the authorized level of $50 million for the Homeless Veterans
Reintegration Program (HVRP) employment program for homeless veterans.
Employment, Training and Entrepreneurship
Part of VVA’s commitment to
treating the “whole veteran” is VVA’s belief that virtually all VA programs be
measured by whether that program contributes toward helping veterans obtain and
sustain meaningful employment at a living wage.
It certainly can be argued that
we should spend more in many areas, but in fact VA spends billions on education,
training, treatment, and rehabilitation of one sort or another, but all of those
prodigious efforts will come to nothing if we do not help the veteran obtain and
sustain meaningful employment.
The system for assisting
veterans to find work is not working, particularly in many of the more populous
areas of the country, and there are no meaningful standards of performance and
results, much less rewards for good performance or sanctions for poor results.
VVA urges Congress to pass
legislation this year that makes meaningful reform in the Veterans Employment &
Training Service (VETS) system at the U.S. Department of Labor and meaningful
efforts to hold VA Vocational Education, Counseling, & Employment much more
accountable at every level of the organization. Each man and woman must be
assisted in obtaining and sustaining meaningful employment at the highest level
of the veteran’s potential, or in entering self-employment. VVA believes this
must be a top priority for this legislative year.
favors an increase in the Montgomery GI Bill to at least $1,000 per month,
indexed for inflation into the future. More than an earned benefit, the GI Bill
is perhaps the best investment America can make in our future. VVA also urges
appropriation for the State
Veterans Education Approving Agencies to at least $18 million, given their
expanded scope and responsibilities under recent legislation. They have been
flat-lined for more than five years and are in danger of not meeting their
VVA opposes the so-called
“Managerial Flexibility Act” submitted by the administration and introduced in
the Senate. Instead of flexibility, what is needed is more accountability from
federal managers in enforcing the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998
and according veterans-preference eligibles and disabled-veteran-preference
eligibles with their full rights under the law. VVA also believes that all
special hiring authorities, except the 30 percent disabled veteran hiring
authority, be eliminated.
VVA favors an appropriation of
at least $3 million for the Office of Veterans Business Development at the Small
Business Administration (SBA) and full implementation of Public Law 106-50, the
“Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Act of 1999.” Further, VVA favors
legislation this year that would accord sole source authority and preferential
pricing in federal procurement for service-disabled owned businesses and certain
other needed changes that have become apparent since the enactment of this law
in 1999, in order to fulfill the real intent of Congress and meet the vital
needs of veteran and disabled-veteran small business owners.
VVA asks that you take steps to
make permanent the authority for care for sexual trauma, and take steps to
ensure that there are enough full-time Women Veteran Coordinators within each
VISN to ensure that the needs of women veterans are being met in both the
community-based outreach clinics and the medical centers.
VVA also requests that you take
steps to ensure that Public Law 106-419, which provides for treatment services
and certain benefits to children born to women who served in Vietnam, is
implemented at an early date. Not much has happened thus far, and no regulations
or proposed regulations implementing this law have been published. VVA further
asks that legislation be crafted that would extend the same treatment services
and benefits to children with birth defects who were fathered by Vietnam
veterans and that Congress exercise its important oversight function to ensure
that proper implementing regulations are promulgated and that these needed
services are delivered in an effective and timely manner.
In conclusion, VVA also urges
significant expansion and better funding for grants to states for construction
of state veterans homes and for state veterans cemeteries, in order to meet the
demand for long-term care for veterans and for proper burial sites for veterans,
no matter where they live in America.
attached a list of issues, briefly stated, that outlines the full range
of VVA’s current legislative and policy concerns (See Appendix I). Mr.
Chairman, I thank you for this opportunity to present before this committee
today Vietnam Veterans of America’s 2002 legislative priorities. I will be
happy to answer any questions you may have.
VETERANS OF AMERICA
organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans
membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19) with the Internal Revenue
Service. VVA is also appropriately registered with the Secretary of the Senate
and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying
Disclosure Act of 1995.
VVA is not
currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the routine
allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for
outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service
Representatives). This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.
For Further Information,
Government Relations, Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000 ext.
THOMAS H. COREY
currently serves a National President of Vietnam Veterans of America, the
nation’s only congressionally chartered organization devoted to serving the
needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families.
A native of
Detroit, Corey was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam in May
1967. He served as a squad leader with the 1st Air Cavalry
Division. While engaged in an assault against enemy positions in January 31,
1968, he received an enemy round in the neck which hit his spinal cord and
left him quadriplegic. He was medically retired in May 1968.
extended period of hospitalization, Corey returned to his family in Detroit
where he spent much of his time in and out of the local VA hospital. He
relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1972, where he is involved in
community affairs and serves on many advisory boards. He has received awards
for speaking out for veterans and disabled persons rights.
Corey was the
first recipient of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s Commendation Medal, VVA’s
highest award for service to veterans, their families, and the community.
He has served
as a member of the board of directors and President of the Paralyzed Veterans
Association of Florida. He also serves on advisory boards at the VA Medical
Center in West Palm Beach, the VA Research Foundation of the Palm Beaches, and
VISN 8 Management Assistance Council.
Corey was the
founding President of VVA Palm Beach County Chapter 25, in 1981. In 1991 the
chapter was named the Thomas H. Corey Chapter at its tenth anniversary
celebration. In 1985, he was elected to a two-year term as a VVA national
board member. In 1987, he was elected VVA National Secretary and was
re-elected in 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1995 to that position. In 1997, he was
elected VVA’s national Vice-President.
currently resides in West Palm Beach. He has a 19-year-old son, Brian.
HENRY AVERY TAYLOR
Henry Avery Taylor is a Life
Member of Vietnam Veterans of America. He was recently chosen to be the
Chairman of the National VVA Government Affairs Committee. Previously, Mr.
Taylor has served in various offices at the VVA Chapter and State level, as
well as a member of the National VVA Public Affairs Committee.
Avery Taylor served in the
United States Army from 1966 to 1970. He was a Communications Center
Supervisor in the U.S. Army Security Agency, and served with the 77th
SOU Clark AFB 1967-1968, and the 301st ASA Battalion, Ft Bragg in
1968. Taylor served in Vietnam with the 509 RRCUV Ton Sa Nut AB Saigon in
1969. He was awarded the bronze star for meritorious service.
His attended Auburn University
and Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist College. Mr. Taylor has business experience
totaling more than thirty years in information technology. His job functions
have included programming, analysis, engineering, and management in both
Operations and Systems Development. He also has extensive experience with a
variety of IBM Mainframe configurations as well as with using Personal
Computer systems and applications. For the past eleven years, he has been
Senior Quality Assurance Consultant for the Farmers Insurance Group in
Avery Taylor and his wife
reside in Catonsville, Maryland.
Richard F. “Rick” Weidman
serves as Director of Government Relations on the National Staff of Vietnam
Veterans of America. As such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in
Washington. He served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam war,
including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division,
located in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.
Mr. Weidman was part of the
staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving variously as Membership Service
Director, Agency Liaison, and Director of Government Relations. He left VVA
to serve in the Administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo (NY) as statewide
director of veterans employment & training (State Veterans Programs
Administrator) for the New York State Department of Labor.
He has served as Consultant on
Legislative Affairs to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV),
and served at various times on the VA Readadjustment Advisory Committee, the
Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the
President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities -
Subcommittee on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on veterans’
entrepreneurship at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other
advocacy posts in veteran affairs.
Mr. Weidman was an instructor
and administrator at Johnson State College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he
was also active in community and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate
University (B.A., (1967), and did graduate study at the University of
He is married and has four children.
ROBERT W. MARAS
Robert Maras joined the Marine
Corps in 1965, upon graduation from Woodbridge (N.J.) High School. After
training and one year with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines,
Mr. Maras was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines
in I Corps, Vietnam, where he served for thirteen months until November 1967. He
spent four months of this period in hospitals recovering from shrapnel wounds.
(The common nickname for the 1/9 Marines was “The Walking Dead, as a result of
their very high casualty rate.) Upon returning from Vietnam, he was assigned to
Cuba and other installations in the U.S. He received an honorable discharge in
Mr. Maras was a career policeman
with the Lakewood, N.J. police department. He has served in numerous capacities
with Vietnam Veterans of America at the Chapter and State level in New Jersey,
including four years as N.J. State President. Since 1997 Maras has served as a
member of the National Board of Directors of VVA, and as the Chairman of the VVA
National Veterans Affairs Committee. He has also been active in the Veterans
Initiative program of VVA, which has encouraged cooperation on both sides in
regard to information that can lead to repatriation of remains from the war in
Vietnam. In regard to this work, he has been part of four VVA missions
returning to Vietnam in recent years.
Robert Maras is a native of New
Jersey, where he currently resides with his wife, Kate Scott. He is the father
of four children.