Congressional Testimony: Pending Benefits Legislation
June 12, 2013
RYAN M. GALLUCCI,
FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES
UNITED STATES SENATE
WITH RESPECT TO
Pending Benefits Legislation
CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE:
behalf of the men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United
States (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity
to testify on today’s pending legislation. As the wars wind down and the
military plans to shrink the active duty force, VA anticipates that more than
one million veterans will seek to access their earned benefits within the next
few years. The VFW applauds this committee’s work to address benefit-access and
transitional issues during the last Congress and we are encouraged to see that
the committee continues to take this situation seriously.
VFW is honored to share our thoughts on today’s bills in an effort to ensure
our veterans have the opportunities they have earned to succeed after leaving
military service. Specifically, our testimony will focus on nine veterans’
economic opportunity bills: S. 257, S. 262, S. 492, S. 495, S. 514, S. 863, S.
894, S. 922 and S. 944. We will also offer VFW’s brief thoughts on the other
bills pending before the committee.
S. 257, GI Bill
Tuition Fairness Act of 2013:
Post-9/11 GI Bill was intended to offer a free, public education and a modest
living stipend to eligible veterans, allowing them to treat college as a
full-time job without worrying about financial stability. Unfortunately,
Student Veterans of America reports that only one out of every five veterans
attending a public school is eligible to attend at the in-state rate.
law only allows VA to reimburse veterans attending public schools for the cost
of an in-state education, meaning veterans who cannot qualify for in-state
tuition will only receive meager reimbursement for college. This oversight
forces veterans to either drop out or find other ways to pay for college
through federal financial aid programs, full time employment or amassing
student loan debt even when they make a good faith effort to legally reside in
a state and attend a public school.
recently-separated veterans may be legal residents of a particular state, but if
their military duty has taken them to an installation in another state, they
will not qualify as residents when they seek to attend a public college or
university because they have not been physically present in the state long
enough to qualify as a resident for tuition purposes. Furthermore, once a
veteran matriculates to the public school of their choice, many states restrict
them from establishing residency because of their status as a full-time
student. The VFW believes that Congress must allow Post-9/11 GI Bill-eligible
veterans to attend at the in-state rate, which is why we proudly support S. 257.
have said that S. 257 sets a dangerous precedent for other non-resident
students utilizing federal aid programs. The VFW vehemently disagrees with this
notion. Military service members and military veterans are the only cohort of
Americans who cannot reasonably satisfy residency requirements for in-state
tuition because of circumstances beyond their control. Recognizing these unique
circumstances, service members are already offered this reasonable accommodation
when using military Tuition Assistance at public schools through the Higher
Education Authorization Act. However, once a service member leaves the
military, this protection goes away.
states already offer in-state tuition to veterans, eight states offer
conditional waivers for veterans in certain circumstances, and 16 states have
legislation pending. Of the states that have passed in-state tuition
initiatives for veterans, both Republican and Democrat state leaders have all
agreed that the financial benefits for the state far outweigh the illusory
financial burdens that some in higher education believe would be detrimental to
institutional budgets – particularly since graduates of public colleges and
universities traditionally pursue careers close to their alma mater.
Ohio passed its in-state tuition waiver in 2009, then- Gov. Ted Strickland said
of in-state tuition, “It delivers real support to veterans while helping
strengthen Ohio's strategic plan for higher education, which calls for
attracting and keeping talent in the state. Who better to have as part of
Ohio's colleges and universities, workforce and communities than the veterans
who have served, led, and protected our country?”
Virginia passed its law in 2011, Gov. Bob McDonnell said “These men and women
have served our country; it is essential that we continue to work to better
serve them. Veterans are the kind of citizens we want in the Commonwealth and
that we want as part of our workforce.”
Louisiana passed its law in 2012, Gov. Bobby Jindal said, “This new law
encourages members of the U.S. military – who are the best trained
professionals in the world – to pursue an education in our state, which will be
an economic boost, but most importantly, it’s yet another means for us to thank
these brave men and women for their service.”
Post-9/11 GI Bill is a federal program designed to help our nation’s heroes
acquire the skills necessary to build a successful career after military
service. Our veterans served the nation; not a particular state. They should
not be penalized for their honorable service when they cannot satisfy strict
residency requirements for tuition purposes. The VFW regularly hears from
student-veterans who confirm that financial uncertainty is the most significant
roadblock to persistence and graduation. To combat this, it only makes sense to
allow our student-veterans to attend college at a reasonable rate when seeking
to use their earned Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and we hope the committee moves
quickly to pass this legislation.
S. 262, Veterans
Education Equity Act of 2013:
VFW understands that the goal of this bill is similar to that of S. 257. We
thank Senator Durbin for taking this issue seriously and introducing
legislation that seeks to offer more equitable reimbursement for
student-veterans attending public schools. The VFW supported this initiative in
the last Congress, but we must explain why we have withdrawn support this term.
session, we believe we have better identified the problem. The problem is that
recently-separated veterans cannot meet stringent residency requirements for
in-state tuition because of their military service, and once enrolled, they cannot
legally establish residency because of their status as full-time students. S. 262 seeks to increase the compensation
veterans attending a public school as non-residents can receive, but the VFW
believes that throwing money at this problem does not solve it.
the last few weeks, the VFW has learned that many interest groups representing
higher education – particularly public colleges and universities – have rallied
in support of S. 262 in lieu of offering in-state tuition to recently-separated
veterans attending public colleges on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. To the VFW, these
groups only see our veterans as dollar signs in uniform. We believe it would be
irresponsible to put VA and the American taxpayers on the hook for more money
when we know these schools can and should deliver a quality education at the
the last session, this bill was a good stop-gap measure that would have
lessened the financial burden on student-veterans attending public schools at
the out-of-state rate. Unfortunately, this bill does not solve the problem. While
we cannot support S. 262, we sincerely appreciate Senator Durbin’s interest in
this issue and we look forward to working with all stakeholders on a fair
solution for our student-veterans.
S. 492, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to require States to recognize the
military experience of veterans when issuing licenses and credentials to
veterans, and for other purposes:
VFW supports S. 492, and we thank Ranking Member Burr for his continued support
to closing the civilian/military licensing and credentialing gap. This bill’s
language is also included as a part of S. 495, but we support this initiative
as a stand-along bill as well.
bill is a reasonable way to ensure that states will allow experienced military
professionals to sit for licensing exams, while still ensuring states have the
autonomy to issue professional licenses as they see fit. States will not have
to relax their standards for professionals operating within their borders, but
experienced veterans will not be unnecessarily burdened with satisfying
duplicative training requirements.
S. 495, Careers
for Veterans Act:
VFW supports S. 495, which is the latest iteration of Ranking Member Burr’s
veterans’ jobs legislation from the end of last Congress. The VFW continues to
believe that this bill leverages existing resources in an effort to ensure our
veterans have access to a variety of job opportunities within the federal
government, and that private industry has quality incentives to hire and retain
bill also extends additional protections for surviving spouses of veteran
entrepreneurs by offering more time for survivors to continue the business as
if it remained veteran-owned. The VFW has called on Congress to offer these
kinds of protections for survivors and we encourage the Senate to take swift
action on this.
S. 514, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide additional educational
assistance under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance to veterans pursuing a
degrees in science, technology, engineering, math or an area that leads to
employment in a high-demand occupation, and for other purposes:
VFW supports S. 514, which seeks to provide additional educational assistance
under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to better assist veterans pursuing a degree in
science, technology, engineering, math or an area that leads to employment in a
high-demand occupation. Currently, there is high demand for jobs in these
areas and our service members stand to significantly contribute to these
sectors through innovation and ingenuity. Unfortunately, degrees in these kinds
of programs can often cost more or last longer than other programs of
education, which is why we support giving the Secretary the discretion to
allocate additional funds for students participating in such programs as deemed
S. 863, Veterans
Back to School Act of 2013:
VFW supports Senator Blumenthal’s proposal to reinstate the Veterans Education
Outreach Program (VEOP). However, we do not support changing the delimiting
dates on the Montgomery GI Bill, and cannot support this bill as drafted.
VFW believes that extending Montgomery GI Bill eligibility to ten years after
first use is not a sound policy for veterans. Unlike other veterans’ benefits,
Montgomery GI Bill beneficiaries signed a contract upon enlistment outlining
the specific terms of their GI Bill benefits. While the VFW understands that
veterans have paid into the program and that the nature of our economy has
changed significantly since the Montgomery GI Bill was signed into law, we
believe this sets a bad precedent for beneficiaries and creates unreasonable
bureaucratic hurdles and unsustainable financial burdens for those who
administer the benefit.
The VFW believes a more responsible solution to close the skills gap for
veterans who are no longer entitled to VA education benefits is to extend
eligibility for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), which offers
up to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill-style benefits to unemployed veterans who
are ineligible for other VA education programs.
VFW would support stand-alone legislation to reinstate VEOP, which served as a
critical resource for student-veterans transitioning into college life. While
VA does offer some support to veterans on college campuses through VetSuccess
on Campus, resources for this program are extremely limited and the scope of
services provided are narrow. VEOP would ensure the anticipated 1 million
veterans entering academic life the in the next few years would have all of the
resources necessary to succeed on campus.
S. 894, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend expiring authority for
work-study allowances for individuals who are pursuing programs of
rehabilitation, education, or training under laws administered by the Secretary
of Veterans Affairs, to expand such authority to certain outreach services
provided through congressional offices, and for other purposes:
bill is an extension and expansion of VA’s authority to offer work-study
allowances for student-veterans. The VFW has long supported the VA work-study
program and we would proudly support this initiative to extend the program. The
VFW also appreciates Chairman Sanders’ effort to extend the program for the
offices of members of Congress. However,
we believe that the draft bill should extend the authority to June 30, 2018, to
match the extension offered in H.R. 1453.
S. 922, Veterans
Equipped for Success Act of 2013:
VFW understands Chairman Sanders’ goal with this legislation, but we have
concerns over establishing two new government subsidy programs to hire and
train veterans. First, the VFW believes that a new pilot program for on-the-job
training (OJT) administered by Department of Labor is duplicative to VA’s OJT
program – particularly for the cohort of veterans 18-30 outlined in this
Veterans in this age demographic are already eligible to participate in VA OJT
using their earned GI Bill benefits. Such OJT programs already have minimal
bureaucratic hurdles for businesses to meet, and even officials involved in
veterans’ education admit that OJT is underutilized. Creating a new pilot
program will only create confusion and additional bureaucratic hurdles for both
businesses and veterans that wish to participate.
the VFW is worried that government subsidies to hire young veterans and
veterans near retirement age sets a bad precedent for the veterans’ community.
The VFW understands that these two groups of veterans have faced significant
disadvantages in a down economy. However, we also believe that government
subsidies will exacerbate misconceptions that such veterans are “charity cases”
in need of a government hand-out for the opportunity to work. Instead, the VFW
has leaned heavily on resources that make the business case for hiring veterans
by demonstrating how veterans can succeed in the workplace, such as recent
reports from the Syracuse University Institute on Veterans and Military
Families and the Center for a New American Security.
VFW understands that these proposals are simply pilot programs, but we believe
such new programs would create further confusion for veterans seeking to
navigate the complex system of more than 18 federal programs focusing on career
readiness for service members, veterans and dependents, as reported by the
Government Accountability Office in 2012.
VFW believes that the best way to ensure veterans find meaningful careers is to
focus on professional development and credentialing while in uniform,
bolstering transition services through the military Transition Assistance
Program, fostering information-sharing across relevant federal and state
agencies when service members separate, improving access to existing veterans’
employment and training resources, and demonstrating to employers how veterans
will contribute to their workforce.
VFW understands that Chairman Sanders is very concerned about the high
unemployment numbers facing our veterans. We thank the Chairman for his
leadership on this issue, and we look forward to helping move initiatives
through this committee that will make our most at-risk unemployed veterans
marketable in the civilian workplace.
Veterans’ Educational Transition Act of 2013:
VFW thanks Chairman Sanders and Ranking Member Burr for their attention to this
serious issue and for introducing legislation that seeks to address this major
financial burden for many of our recently-separated student-veterans. However,
the VFW prefers that S. 257, which has a companion bill that has cleared
committee in the House, serve as the vehicle through which we offer our
veterans reasonable in-state tuition protections while using their Post-9/11 GI
VFW applauds this bill for including protections for military dependents using
transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, since the transience of military life
often also precludes them from establishing residency for tuition purposes. We
also support limiting the scope of the bill to cover students receiving GI Bill
benefits. By adding this caveat, we ensure that schools can reasonably comply
with the in-state tuition policy, since they can easily identify enrolled
beneficiaries. We hope to see these provisions in any in-state tuition package
as drafted, this bill raises several major issues for the VFW. First, the VFW
opposes any proposition that would give the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the
discretion to waive compliance with the in-state tuition protection. School
systems will have two years to come into compliance with the policy, meaning
every state legislature will have an opportunity to address any state-specific
issues caused by the change. The VFW believes that among the states that
currently say they cannot comply, many will simply wait out the two-year
compliance period and insist on an exemption from the Secretary. While the VFW
believes that noncompliance would create a public affairs nightmare for these
university systems, we can easily avoid this by insisting that public
university systems who receive GI Bill compensation must comply with this
reasonable protection for their student-veterans, as we outlined in our
testimony in support of S. 257.
the VFW is concerned that much of the language in S. 944 could be subject to
broad interpretation by states that would allow them to quickly charge veterans
as out-of-state students after the first semester. Specifically, Section
2(a)(3) allows schools to require veterans to “demonstrate an intent to
establish residency in the State in which the institution is located.” While
this seems like a reasonable accommodation, the VFW recognizes that many states
preclude students living in campus-owned properties from taking steps to
demonstrate residency because their housing is considered temporary. In states
where this is a factor, students are precluded from establishing domicile,
registering to vote, or even changing their driver’s license. The VFW can
easily see a scenario where student-veterans who are forced to live in campus
housing would only receive one semester of in-state tuition before the
university deems them ineligible for failing to demonstrate intent to establish
residency. The VFW suggests either striking this section or clarifying that a
“letter of intent” would prove sufficient for student-veterans who cannot take
other legal steps to establish residency.
the VFW worries that language limiting service to 180 continuous days of active
duty and two years post-separation excludes many veterans eligible for and
currently using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. We recommend changing the date to
90 days to cover all Chapter 33-eligible veterans and changing the delimiting
date to cover all years of eligibility for both Chapter 30 and Chapter 33
programs. The VFW understands that the goal of the two-year delimiting date is
to offer reasonable accommodation to transitioning service members who cannot
satisfy residency requirements due to military service. However, the VFW is
also concerned that veterans who currently attend under Chapter 33 will not be
covered by the two-year limit, and veterans who experience any lapse in
enrollment or who enroll part time will lose their status as in-state for
understand that the Chairman and Ranking Member have put significant effort
into a comprehensive bill that will protect student-veterans, but not place an
unnecessary burden on school systems that seek to serve them. However, the VFW
is worried that this legislation as drafted would still leave many
student-veterans in a gray area, offering too much flexibility to school
systems with no intention to comply.
thank Chairman Sanders and Ranking Member Burr for their leadership on this
issue, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure we can
pass reasonable in-state tuition protections for currently-enrolled GI Bill
beneficiaries and future student-veterans.
S. 6, Putting
Our Veterans Back to Work Act of 2013:
The VFW supports this bill, which offers additional employment incentives and
opportunities for recently-separated veterans like extension of VRAP and
additional protections for veterans from employers who knowingly violate the
Uniformed Servicemembers Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
S. 200, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the interment in national
cemeteries under the control of the National Cemetery Administration of
individuals who served in combat supports of the Armed forces in the Kingdom of
Laos between February 28, 1961 and May 15, 1975, and for other purposes:
VFW has no official position on this legislation.
S. 294, Ruth
Moore Act of 2013:
VFW strongly supports this legislation and believes that it is long overdue. S.
294 would relax evidentiary standards for tying mental
health conditions to an assault, making it easier for Military Sexual Assault
(MST) survivors to receive VA benefits.
regulations put a disproportionate burden on the veteran to produce evidence of
MST – often years after the event and in an environment which is often
unfriendly - in order to prove service-connection for mental health disorders.
the extraordinarily high incidence of sexual trauma in the military and the
failure of many victims to report the trauma to medical or police authorities,
it is time Congress amends this restrictive standard.
legislation does that by providing equity to those suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health
diagnoses that are often related to MST. It puts MST in line with VA’s
standard of proof provided to combat veterans who suffer from PTSD.
bill will allow those who have suffered from sexual violence in the military to
get the care and benefits they deserve. The VFW urges Congress to pass this
legislation quickly, but we are also disappointed to see the House companion
bill, H.R. 671, amended to only “direct” VA to improve its policies on Military
Sexual Trauma (MST), weakening the original intent of the bill.
S. 373, Charlie
Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013:
VFW has no official position on this legislation.
S. 430, Veterans
Small Business Opportunity and Protection Act of 2013:
VFW support S. 430 and the similar language included as part of Ranking Member
Burr’s S. 495. Survivors of veteran entrepreneurs must have reasonable
protections to continue doing business as if the entity remained veteran-owned.
The VFW has called on Congress to offer these kinds of protections for
survivors and we encourage the Senate to take swift action on this either as
stand-alone legislation or through S. 495.
S. 515, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the Yellow Ribbon G.I.
Education Enhancement Program to cover recipients of Marine Gunnery Sergeant
John David Fry scholarship, and for other purposes:
current statutory loophole excludes eligible dependents of a service member
killed in action from enhanced tuition reimbursement available through the
Yellow Ribbon Program. This simple legislative fix will provide Fry Scholarship
recipients with the same benefits as other Chapter 33-eligible beneficiaries.
The VFW proudly supports this bill and we encourage the Senate to quickly pass
S. 572, Veterans
Second Amendment Protection Act:
VFW supports S. 572, which would provide a layer of protection for veterans who
might be seeking or undergoing mental health care for service-related
psychological disorders from losing their Second Amendment right. Adding a
provision that will require a finding through the legal system that the
veteran’s condition causes a danger to him or herself or others will prevent a
veteran’s name from being automatically added to federal no-sell lists.
S. 629, Honor
America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act of 2013:
VFW strongly supports this legislation, which would give the men and women who
chose to serve our nation in the Reserve component the recognition that their
service demands. Many who serve in the Guard and Reserve are in positions that
support the deployments of their active duty comrades to make sure the unit is
fully prepared when called upon. Unfortunately, some of these men and women
serve at least 20 years and are entitled to retirement pay, TRICARE, and other
benefits, but are not considered a veteran according to the letter of the law.
Passing this bill into law will grant Guard and Reserve retirees the
recognition their service to our country deserves.
are concerned that this bill will allow Guard and Reserve retirees to
legitimize claims for other veterans’ benefits like health care or education
moving forward. The VFW disagrees because such retirees are already eligible to
participate in military health care programs after age 65; they are still
entitled to file a disability claim for injuries sustained during military duty;
and they already have access to VA education programs like the Montgomery GI
Bill Reserve Select or even the Post-9/11 GI Bill contingent on the nature of
their military service.
Accountability for Veterans Act of 2013:
VFW supports this bill, which will require other federal agencies to promptly
respond to a Secretary of Veterans Affairs request for information that will
assist in adjudicating a VA claim for benefits. VA is held under focused scrutiny
for the slow processing of claims for benefits. This bill will require agencies
to provide VA with requested information within 30 days or provide a rationale
and an estimated time of delivery. In passing this legislation, other agencies
can be held accountable for any delays that are caused by their slow response
for information required to adjudicate a claim.
S. 690, Filipino
Veterans Act of 2013:
VFW has no official position on this legislation.
S. 695, Veterans
Paralympic Act of 2013:
VFW believes that rehabilitation through sports fosters healthy living,
physical fitness, and a competitive spirit for our disabled veterans, many of
whom have suffered catastrophic injuries in the line of duty. VFW Posts and
Departments around the country consistently support rehabilitative sports in
their communities, which is why we are proud to support extending VA’s
collaboration with United States Paralympics, Inc. through 2018.
supporting responsible rehabilitative sports initiatives like those provided by
the U.S. Paralympic Team, the VFW believes that combat-wounded veterans will
not simply overcome their injuries, but also discover new personal strengths
S. 705, War
Memorial Protection Act of 2013:
VFW has no official position on this legislation.
S. 735, Survivor
Benefits Improvement Act of 2013:
VFW is happy to support Chairman Sander’s bill to expand federal assistance to
the nearly 350,000 surviving spouses and children receiving benefits from VA. Extending supplemental Disability
Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments to survivors with children from two years
to five years gives survivors reasonable time to adjust to what is often a very
difficult financial period in their lives.
By allowing those who remarry after age 55 to retain
DIC, healthcare, housing and educational assistance, this bill fulfills a
longstanding VFW goal to level the playing field for survivors of fallen
service members and other survivors who receive federal benefits. Current law cancels
benefits if a surviving spouse remarries before age 57.
VFW also supports expanding spina bifida care to children whose parents served
during the Vietnam era, but
would recommend striking “exposure to herbicide agents” and replacing it with “service
in Thailand” as the qualifier for benefits. We believe making this small
change will lessen the burden of proof and offer timely access to health care,
compensation and supportive services for affected children.
the VFW supports creation of a
pilot program to provide grief counseling in retreat settings for surviving
spouses. The retreat setting offers a unique and therapeutic environment for
peer-to-peer support while helping to provide participants with the necessary
tools to manage grief and begin the healing process. VFW has heard positive
stories from a similar pilot program involving women veterans, and we are happy
to support the same goals for those who lost a loved one on active duty.
S. 748, Veterans
Pension Protection Act:
VFW supports the passage of S. 748. Current law allows VA pension claimants to
transfer assets to lower their net worth prior to applying for pension
benefits. Other means-tested assistance programs have a “look-back” period that
prevents a claimant from disposing of assets below fair market value.
there is disparity between the programs, veterans who are seeking pension
benefits from VA can put themselves into a “penalty period,” precluding them
from receiving assistance from programs like Medicaid for up to three years
when applying for other assistance programs. Since VA lacks a “look-back,”
veterans are being solicited by financial institutions that state they can
shelter assets and assist in successfully claiming VA pension. In many cases, these
institutions are charging large service fees and in some cases placing the
veteran’s assets into annuities that cannot be accessed during their expected
lifetime without withdrawal fees.
released a report in June of 2012, outlining the need for VA to adopt a
“look-back” period when determining eligibility for VA’s need-based pension.
This bill would provide for a three-year look back and penalty period that
could not exceed 36 months. In passing this legislation, VA will protect
veterans from falling victim to aggressive marketing that can diminish their
assets and prevent them from receiving other finical assistance when they need
S. 778, a bill
to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to issue cards to veterans that
identify them as veterans, and for other purposes:
VFW opposes the passage of S. 778, a bill to authorize the Secretary of VA to
issue ID card to any veteran for use as validation of veteran status. The VFW
believes that states are better suited to provide veterans with identification
that verifies veteran status. Forty-three states already provide or are in the
process of providing a “veteran” designation on state-issued driver’s licenses
or state issued non-driver’s license ID cards. The infrastructure already exists
within each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to provide picture
identification to its citizens, whereas the VA would have to expand its
capability to accommodate the increase in veteran requests for an ID card. The
VFW encourages the remaining seven states to pass legislation to provide for
veterans status on their existing state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards.
S. 819, Veterans
Mental Health Treatment First Act of 2013:
The VFW does not support
this legislation which would create a program of mental health care and
rehabilitation for veterans who are diagnosed by a VA physician with
service-related PTSD, depression or anxiety. Those who comply with the
treatment regimen of the program would be paid a stipend during participation,
not to exceed a total of $11,000. Although the VFW appreciates the effort to
offer a new approach to solving the difficult problem of mental health
rehabilitation, we feel that this legislation contains serious flaws.
The VFW does not support
the idea of asking veterans not to submit applications for disability
compensation while participating in the program. Even with the payments
for treatment that this bill would provide, we cannot support legislation that
will require veterans to temporarily forgo any benefits to which they may be
entitled. This is especially true in the case of a veteran who would ultimately
receive a high rating for a mental health disorder, even after completing the
program. The total monetary value of the wellness stipend could potentially be
far less than that of an award of service-connected disability compensation,
harming the veteran financially.
S. 868, Filipino
Veterans Promise Act:
VFW has no official position on this legislation.
Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act of 2013:
VFW recently testified in support of the House companion, H.R. 631, and we are
proud to support Senator Boozman’s bill. S. 889 reflects the changes recently
passed by the House Veterans Affairs Committee, clarifying that Department of
Defense (DoD) must deliver the education component of the military Transition
Assistance Program (TAP) to all interested transitioning service members.
VFW has long served as a vocal advocate for student-veterans, and we believe
that TAP plays a critical role in ensuring that transitioning service members
are academically and financially prepared for college. The VFW has been
generally satisfied with the newly-developed education curriculum for TAP, but
we are concerned that the military had no plans to adequately deliver the
training to those who need it, since participation in individualized tracked
curricula will neither be mandatory, nor will sufficient staff be provided.
has instead decided that service members will need to meet “career readiness
standards” in the track of their choice, including education. To the VFW, this
does not satisfy the VOW to Hire Heroes Act mandate to deliver “assistance in
identifying employment and training opportunities, help in obtaining such
employment and training…” in accordance with title 10, U.S.C., § 1144 (a),
since the goal of veterans’ education benefits is to train veterans to enter
the job market.
insists that it is building a life cycle model for military professional
development that will include education goals, but the VFW remains concerned
that the new model will still fail to adequately prepare service members for
civilian life. We prefer the model set forth in S. 889, which acknowledges the
finite time frame services can dedicate to preparing separating service members
for civilian life, but also ensures potential student-veterans can make
knowledgeable college choices.
Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013:
Disabled veterans, their
surviving spouses and children depend on their disability and dependency and
indemnity compensation to bridge the gap of lost earnings and savings that the
veteran’s disability has caused. Each year, veterans wait anxiously to find out
if they will receive a cost-of-living adjustment. There is no automatic trigger
that increases these forms of compensation for veterans and their dependents.
Annually, veterans wait for a separate Act of Congress to provide the same
adjustment that is automatic to Social Security beneficiaries.
The VFW supports this
legislation that will bring parity to VA disability and survivor recipients’
compensation by providing a COLA beginning December 1, 2013, so long as VA
disability, pension and survivor benefits continue to be calculated with the
currently used Consumer Price Index – W, and not change the calculations for
these adjustments to the Chained – Consumer Price Index.
Veterans’ Outreach Act of 2013:
VFW often hears from veterans who are confused by the dearth of information
about veterans’ benefits, veteran-specific services, and community resources.
Since 2001, thousands of new non-profit and community organizations have popped
up, seeking to meet the needs of service members, veterans and their families.
Some provide tremendous resources and services, like the Wounded Warrior
Project, Student Veterans of America, Fisher House, Team Rubicon, or Team Red
White and Blue. Others have rightfully come under fire from charity watchdogs
for seeking to exploit the good will of the American people.
Saturation of the marketplace and the availability of information through online
and social channels have left many veterans confused. The VFW and our partners
in the veterans’ community have seen this before and we proudly help any
veteran who reaches out navigate this complex system to the best of our
ability. But we can’t do it alone.
Sanders’ bill would insist that the federal government take a hard look at how
it disseminates information about veteran-specific services to the men and
women who need it. It seeks to improve coordination among federal, state and
community resources to ensure that information can be delivered in a timely
manner. The VFW believes these efforts are long overdue and we are proud to
support this legislation, and continue our work with federal, state and local
agencies who seek to inform veterans of the programs and services designed to
S. 928, Claims
Processing Improvement Act of 2013:
VFW generally supports the concept of this bill and we thank Chairman Sanders
for his attention to the VA disability claims backlog. The current wait times
to process VA disability claims remains woefully insufficient, and the VFW has
consistently testified for nearly 20 years that the disability claims backlog
demands leadership and decisive action.
support many of the provisions in this bill, such as creating a study group to
evaluate how VA administers work credit for claims processors, establishing a
task force on training and retention for raters, providing education and
training for transitioning service members to assist in claims-processing, and
streamlining how VA acquires military records.
However, the VFW has several concerns about the current bill. First, the VFW
opposes reducing a veteran’s appeal period from one year to 180 days. To the
VFW, this clerical change will not affect the backlog, since rated claims are
no longer considered pending. Instead, this will only hurt veterans who wish to
appeal their rating decisions, and only further exacerbate VA bureaucratic
hurdles when veterans seek exemptions from the 180-day filing period.
the VFW wants to clarify that when VA requests records from the military, VA
must summarize why they stop development after a second attempt to acquire
Third, the VFW worries that formally adopting VA’s 125-day backlog goal, while
ambitious, does not accurately reflect the steps required for proper claim
development in certain circumstances. We also believe that is unnecessary to
formally codify “pending,” since this is already defined in VA regulations and
introduces an unnecessary redundancy in the code.
S. 930, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Veterans
Affairs, in cases of overpayments of educational assistance under Post-9/11
Educational Assistance, to deduct amounts for repayment from the last months of
educational assistance entitlement, and for other purposes:
VFW supports this bill, which would protect student-veterans from facing
significant financial hardships and allow a student veteran to charge their
individual overpayment to entitlement. A student-veteran’s
enrollment status can change month to month by adding or dropping units, or
based on an institution’s academic calendars. When these payments change so
frequently, lack of due process and poor communication does not allow the
veteran a reasonable path to understand whether or not they have received an
overpayment in a timely manner.
VFW understands that VA overpayments must be recouped in order for benefit
programs to work efficiently, but the VFW is also concerned that debt
collections for a benefit as complicated as the Post-9/11 GI Bill can cause
significant financial hardships for both veterans and their schools. Organizations
representing school certifying officials, like the National Association of
Veterans Program Administrators (NAVPA), report that VA’s assignment of debt
collections to schools and students, as well as erroneous offsets have been
inconsistent across the board. By allowing VA to tack debts to the end term of
a benefit, we offer veterans the flexibility to continue attending without
facing potential financial hardships.
the VFW supports this bill, we also recognize that this is just a stop-gap
measure to protect student-veterans. It does not tackle the major issue through
which schools and veterans report that VA poorly communicates the results of an
assigned overpayment from the Regional Processing Office in a timely manner. This
can result in the recoupment of other federal funds from schools through
the Treasury’s tax offset program, which in turn may result in the school
reassigning the debt to the student and/or placing a veteran’s credit in jeopardy.
Either way the student veteran’s educational goals are in jeopardy. VA must
clarify its policies on debt collections. Debt notices must be clear and both
veterans and schools should be able to take quick steps to resolve any
outstanding debts. We look forward to working with the committee to resolve
this issue in an equitable way that not only protects veterans and schools, but
also ensures VA can properly administer its benefit programs in a responsible
S. 932, Putting
Veterans Funding First Act of 2013:
VFW is proud to support this bill, which is a companion to H.R. 813. In March,
VFW Commander-in-Chief John Hamilton made the case for why Congress needed to
offer advance appropriations for all VA programs. Advance appropriations would
prevent disruptions or delays to existing or proposed programs and services
that occur when budgets are not passed in a timely manner. As we have seen with
Advance Appropriations for VA’s medical care accounts, when VA knows how much
funding they will receive, they can better plan and more responsibly spend
their annual budget. By including all accounts under Advance Appropriations,
building projects will not be halted, IT development will not be delayed and
essential services and staffing levels will not be threatened by arbitrary
S. 935, Quicker
Veterans Benefits Delivery Act:
VFW supports the intent of this legislation, but we have serious concerns with
the bill as written. The VFW supports the provision to mandate VA’s acceptance
of private medical evidence that is competent, credible, probative, and
otherwise adequate for purposes of making a decision on a claim. However, we
believe that the bill must also clarify that VA must not order an additional
exam for the veteran unless VA has provided a thorough explanation as to why
the private medical evidence proved insufficient for establishing service
connection and determining a rating.
the VFW understands and supports the goal of lowering the threshold with which
VA can deliver temporary disability ratings for veterans, but we believe the
concept in this bill requires further development. The VFW believes that this
bill would unintentionally incentivize VA to deliver temporary disability
ratings with no required follow-up. The bill currently also exempts VA from
considering claims with a temporary rating as “backlogged” for the purposes of
reporting to Congress.
VFW understands that the wait time for disability rating decisions remains a
national embarrassment that demands innovative solutions. We thank Senator
Franken for his attention to this issue and his continued support of our
veterans. Though we cannot support this bill in its current form, we look
forward to working with Senator Franken to craft a bill that will best serve
the needs of our disabled veterans.
Franchise Education for Veterans Act of 2013:
VFW is proud to support this bill, which will allow veterans to tap into their
earned education benefits for established professional development programs
offered by franchisors. The VFW has long held that the GI Bill is a
professional development tool designed to help veterans secure the skills
necessary to succeed in the marketplace. Allowing veteran franchisees to use
their earned education benefits for legitimate industry training seems like a
reasonable extension of non-degree professional training already offered
through the GI Bill.
the VFW must ensure that State Approving Agencies, which already approve or
disapprove on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs for GI Bill
eligibility, also have oversight in approval and disapproval of franchise
education programs to ensure training is relevant and necessary for the success
of the franchisee.
by nature, are more entrepreneurial than their civilian counterparts, and
veterans who own franchises are more likely to succeed than civilian franchisees.
Considering both of these factors, providing educational resources for veterans
to operate their own franchises is a reasonable way to not only encourage
business ownership among veterans, but also a way to foster success and build
the economy with proven leaders.
S. 939, a bill
to amend title 38, United States Code, to treat certain misfiled documents as
motions for reconsideration of decisions by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, and
for other purposes:
a veteran seeks to appeal his or her rating decision with the Board of
Veterans’ Appeals, paperwork must be filed with the board in a timely manner.
If the veteran fails to file within the designated time period, their motion to
reconsider will be dismissed by the Board. However, many times the paperwork is
confusing and veterans will mistakenly seek to file their motion to reconsider
with the VA regional office of original jurisdiction for the claim. When this
happens, the regional office must process the paperwork and forward it to the
Board within the allotted time, or the veteran’s motion will be dismissed. To
avoid this unreasonable burden on veterans who make a good faith effort to file
a motion for reconsideration before the deadline, the VFW agrees that misfiled
documents postmarked within the allotted time should also be treated by the
Board as a motion for reconsideration. The VFW is proud to support this bill.
Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Burr and
distinguished members of the committee, this concludes my statement and I am
happy to answer any questions you may have
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