Good afternoon, Chairman Hall, Ranking Member Lamborne and distinguished
Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for giving Vietnam Veterans
of America (VVA) the opportunity to offer our comments regarding
pending benefits legislation that would enhance the lives of the
men and women serving in the current theater of operations and those
who have left love ones behind in previous wars.
H.R. 585- to amend title 38 US Code, to expand the number of individuals
qualifying for retroactive benefits from traumatic injury protection
coverage under Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance.
P.L. 109-233, the Veterans Housing Opportunity and Benefits Improvement
Act of 2006, mandated that The Servicemembers Group Life Insurance
(TSGLI) be retroactive to October 7, 2001, for members who incur
a qualifying loss as a direct result of injuries incurred on or after
October 7, 2001, through and including November 30, 2005, in Operation
Enduring Freedom (OEF) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). This means
that the service member must have been deployed outside the United
States on orders in support of OEF or OIF or serving in a geographic
location that qualified the service member for the Combat Zone Tax
Exclusion under the Internal Revenue Service Code. However, when
Congress passed this important legislation last year they did not
take into consideration that even training for war is a dangerous
business in itself. Whether or not you are stationed in an active
combat zone should not exclude a service member from this most important
benefit. Non-battle wounds can range from injuries in vehicle accidents
to illnesses. As an example, an Air Force pilot was killed last week
in simulated close air combat over Alaska. Every time a unit goes
to 29 Palms to train in desert warfare someone is seriously injured
because training for war is sometimes almost as dangerous as war
Wherever the injury or death of a service member occurs, the effects
on the service member’s families are the same. And the impact
in terms of the current fighting force and future demands on the
VA are also the same." VVA is in favor of removing the restriction
on this legislation.
H.R. 156, to amend title 38 US Code, to provide payment of dependency
and indemnity compensation to the survivors of former prisoners of
war who died on or before September 30, 1999, under the same eligibility
conditions as apply to payment of dependenency and indemnity compensation
to the survivors of former prisoner of war who died after the date.
Current law provides DIC benefits only to surviving spouses of eligible
POWs who died after September 30, 1999. Before 1999, surviving spouses
of POWs were eligible for DIC benefits providing the POW was rated
100% disabled for a minimum of 10 years prior to the POW’s
passing. Due to unresolved eligibility issues, many POWs passed away
prior to being considered 100% disabled for ten years. This problem
was addressed by enactment of the Veteran’s Millennium Healthcare
Act of 1999, which allowed surviving spouses to qualify for DIC benefits
if their POW spouse was rated 100% disabled for at least one year
and died after September 30, 1999. However, establishment of this
date left many widows with unresolved cases penalized due to this
cutoff. This legislation would treat all surviving spouses of POWs
equally and grant them DIC benefits regardless of when their POW
spouse passed away.
Mr. Chairman, these former POW’s, and their families, have
clearly sacrificed greatly for our nation. Easing the financial burdens
of their surviving spouses is a very appropriate means of trying
to repay this debt. VVA fully supports this legislation
H.R. 704, to amend title 38, US Code, to reduce from age 57 to age
55 the age after which the remarried of the surviving spouse of a
deceased veterans shall not result in termination of dependency and
indemnity compensation otherwise payable to that surviving spouse.
VVA commends this committee for previous legislation,
which allowed retention of DIC, burial entitlements, and VA home
loan eligibility for surviving spouses who remarry after age 57.
The majority of the surviving spouses are in fact women who are nearing
retirement age, or have been retired for some time if they ever worked
outside the home. In many cases these women devoted themselves to
taking care of their spouse who was profoundly disabled, and therefore
did not have the opportunity to build a career as a result.
While DIC is frankly inadequate to be able to support
an adult in most of the country, these spouses deserve DIC to recognize
their sacrifice and service to their country by means of caring for
profoundly disabled veterans. We strongly recommend the age 57 DIC
remarriage provision be reduced to age-55 to make it consistent with
all other federal survivor benefit programs and fully support passage
of HR. 704. VVA testified strongly for this when the Congress lowered
the age to 57, and VVA still believes this is the appropriate age.
Chairman and distinguished Members of this subcommittee that concludes
VVA’s formal statement. I welcome your comments,
and will be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Again,
on behalf of VVA National President John Rowan, the VVA National
Board of Directors, and our membership, thank you for allowing VVA
to appear here today to share our views.
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
June 19, 2007
The national 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, Contact:
Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000, extension 127
Sharon Hodge currently serves as Associate Director of Government
Relations. She develops legislative and regulatory strategies at
the national level and advises the Director on issues concerning
veterans’ advocacy programs, legislative issues and strategies
based on Convention resolutions, National board directives, and policy
Ms. Hodge was awarded a 2005 Certificate of Appreciation from National
President, Vietnam Veterans of America; a 2005 Certificate of Appreciation
from Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America; a 2000 Certificate
of Appreciation from the Washington, DC, VAMC Winterhaven; a 2000
Certificate of Appreciation from Associates of Vietnam Veterans of
America; a 1999 Certificate of Appreciation from the VVA Nebraska
State Council; the 1998 The Chapel of Four Chaplains Legion of Honor
Award; and the 1997 Government Affairs Special Recognition Award,
from Vietnam Veterans of America.
Ms. Hodge works tirelessly as an advocate on behalf of our nation’s
veterans. Among her many accomplishments, she established a grassroots
online advocacy network and effectively recruited more than 500 legislative
coordinators. She organized a grassroots advocacy campaign in 2000
that successfully advocated enactment of the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive
Assistance Act. P.L. 107-95.
She has two children and currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland