VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony
 

Testimony of

Vietnam Veterans of America

Presented by

Sharon Hodge
Associate Director of Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America

Concerning

H.R. 585, H.R. 156, and H.R. 704

Before the

Subcommittee on Disability Assistance
& Memorial Affairs
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States House of Representatives

June 19, 2007

 
 

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 itself.

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.

Mr. 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
PRIVATE
Funding Statement
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

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 decisions.

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

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