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Commencing with the War Risk Insurance Act of 1917, each of the schedules for rating disabilities were issued under authority of law approved by the Congress. The current 1945 schedule, as amended, was prepared and promulgated under authority of Public Law 458 of the 79th Congress. A provision of this law, as codified into title 38, United States Code, states that the Administrator of Veterans Affairs shall from time to time readjust this schedule of ratings in accordance with experience.
İn transition from one schedule to another, the Congress provided protection or savings provisions. As an example, a change from a rating under the 1925 schedule to one under the 1945 schedule could be effected only where there was an improvement as shown by physical examination of the condition when reviewed under the old schedular provisions or if the disability warranted a higher rating under the new schedule.
Prior to publication of the 1957 loose-leaf edition of the 1945 disability rating schedule, 9 extensions effected a variety of changes and since publication of the loose-leaf edition, 15 revisions were published.
In the main, these amendments and revisions were instructional or added or changed disability diagnostic terminology. Percentage reductions generally were based on more precise and up-to-date diagnostic terminology and examination findings.
Given the full implication of the proposed revisions and the unrestricted authority of the Administrator of Veterans Affairs by law (in 38 U.S.C. 355) to change the disability rating schedule at will, we are convinced that congressional approval should be mandatory before any changes or revisions may be incorporated in the rating of disabilities.
Mr. Chairman, we support legislation which would amend the law (38 U.S.C. 355) so as to provide that any revisions or adjustments in disability evaluation be submitted to the Congress and that such changes or revisions shall not become effective if either House by resolution within 90 days expresses disapproval of them.
The National Cemeteries Act of 1973 (H.R. 2828) :
The American Legion's position on the subject of national cemeteries is stated in Resolution No. 17 adopted by our national convention last August. A copy of this resolution is appended to this statement.
The American Legion was dismayed at the Presidential veto of H.R. 12674, the National Cemeteries Act of 1972. We are greatly pleased that an identical bill has been introduced in the House, entitled the "National Cemeteries Act of 1973." We hope that the new bill will receive speedy congressional approval and that ths time the President will sign it when it reaches his desk.
The American Legion has worked for years to achieve the enactment of national cemetery legislation. Our arguments and our specific proposals have been stated and restated to the appropriate committees of each Congress. Enactment of this legislation is long past due. By their actions through all of the years following the end of the Civil War, Congresses have consistently extended the honor and privilege to veterans of being buried in a national cemetery if that is their desire. Many thousands of veterans have received the final honor of being interred on hallowed ground in company with their former comrades in arms. A privilege extended to so many for more than a hundred years should now be considered a right. It is unfair that now, when so many have been accorded the honor of burial in a national cemetery, the privilege should be withdrawn from the present veteran population.
National cemetery burial is an honor the Nation can afford. It is one that is desired by many of today's veterans. National cemeteries are rapidly filling and being closed. Some parts of the country have no remaining national cemeteries with space available. Some areas have never had a national cemetery—another inequity.
The American Legion believes that all evidence on this subject is on the record and that the case has been made. All of the arguments have been advanced; all of the objections have been answered and overcome. We urge the Congress to reaffirm its intention that the national cemetery system shall be placed under the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs where it belongs, and that a plan shall be developed for the orderly expansion of the system to the end that the honor of burial in a national cemetery shall be accorded to those veterans who desire it, in a cemetery reasonably near to their place of residence at the time of death.
INCREASE ANNUAL INCOME LIMITATIONS AND MONTHLY PAYMENTS ON
DEATH AND DISABILITY PENSION AND DEPENDENT PARENTS DEPENDENCY AND INDEMNITY COMPENSATION
Veterans' Administration death and disability pension and parents dependency and indemnity compensations are income-maintenance programs. They are a means of supplementing the income of eligible war veterans, widows, children, and to dependent parents of those who died of service-connected causes.
Entitlement to these monetary payments is determined by a needs test, that is, income and
of estate. Because of fixed income from public or private retirement plans or programs or annuities based on age, disability, or dependency, these beneficiaries are beyond the reach of normal inflation-balancing factors.
Recognizing that pension and dependency and indemnity compensations are income-maintenance plans, the Congress from time to time eacts legislation to restore this dollar loss in purchasing power by both increasing the amount of the dollar payments and the annual income limitations.
On January 1, 1973, because of social security increases granted by Public Law 92-336, these beneficiaries were subject to reductions in monthly payments.
According to Veterans Administration information, over 1.2 million pensioners and dependent parents had their monthly checks reduced and another 20,000 were dropped from the rolls entirely. Of these, 15,000 sustained an aggregate income loss ranging from $3.14 a month to $14 a month.
The American Legion believes that veterans and their dependent survivors should have the full measure of any social security or other retirement or annuity increase without suffering reductions in their Veterans Administration income-maintenance payments.
Failure to act to protect the Veterans' Administration beneficiaries against these reductions will in effect penalize them while granting nonveterans the full measure of cost-of-living social security benefit increases.
Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, we urge your early consideration of legislation to increase the applicable annual income limitations by $400 and to increase the monthly rates of pension and dependency and indemnity compensation.
Before leaving the subject of pension, I must say that the American Legion is unalterably opposed to that provision of the Veterans? Administration fiscal year 1974 budget which proposed legislation to reduce the budget authority by $233 million by amending the law (38 U.S.C. 15) so as to provide for the inclusion of the spouse's income in computation of the veteran's income in determination of his entitlement to pension.
THE AMERICAN LEGION AND THE VIETNAM VETERAN
It seems to me appropriate, before concluding my remarks to the committee, to mention the present situation of the Vietnam veterans in our country.
Members of the American Legion join with all of their fellow citizens in prayerful thanks that the shooting has stopped in Vietnam. Nearly 6 million men and women have served the Nation in its Armed Forces, either in Vietnam or at other stations during the course of this long and costly conflict. The American Legion is very much aware that the return to civilian life of these veterans has been markedly different from that of the veterans of other wars in which our country has engaged. It is not necessary for me to recite the reasons why this is so, but that it is true is undeniable. However, as far as the American Legion is concerned, the veterans of the Vietnam war are entitled to the same honor that has been accorded to all other war veterans in the history of our Nation.
While it is true that the end of the Vietnam was has not been marked with victory parades and ceremonies, the valor displayed, and the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who served in Vietnam has been in the highest tradition of American arms. The American Legion is keenly conscious of that fact. And while parades and welcoming ceremonies may not seem to be in fashion today, we are determined that all of the men and women who have returned and are returning from service shall receive the respect and the attention to which they are entitled, and that they shall have available to them all of the rehabilitative services that are needed to enable them to make a satisfactory readjustment to civilan life.
American Legion service officers throughout the country are making every effort to establish contact with Vietnam veterans and to offer to them the assistance of our organization in whatever ways we can be helpful. Our Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission and its staff are monitoring the operation of all of the veterans benefits programs as they are applied to Vietnam war veterans. Where we see the need for adjustments, changes and improvements in those
programs we are calling them to the attention of the Veterans' Administration and to the appropriate committees of the Congress.
The American Legion, with a membership composed of veterans of four wars in the 20th century, believes that it has a direct and immediate responsibility to help all Vietnam veterans in whatever ways are possible. On behalf of our membership, I pledge to you here today that we shall do all in our power to meet that responsibility to the fullest degree.
We are confident too, that the committee shares our determination to do everything possible to facilitate the readjustment of the Vietnam veterans and the rehabilitation of those who have suffered injury in service. We shall continue to work with you to see that this goal is met.
While our primary purpose here is to present to this committee the American Legion's legislative program on behalf of the rehabilitation and care of America's veterans, their dependents and survivors, we also feel it appropriate to here reaffirm our opposition to proposals for amnesty for draft dodgers and deserters of the Vietnam era. While we have this congressional forum, I feel we would be remiss not to restate our opposition to amnesty, and to place on the public record our view that America's obligation is to those who served, not to those who ran.
Mr. Chairman, time does not permit a more detailed presentation of our legislative objectives in veterans affairs. I have spoken, however, to our major areas of concern. Attached to this statement is a list of resolutions pertaining to our veterans affairs and rehabilitation program and I respectfully request that it be made a part of the record of this hearing.
[Statement referred to, to be furnished :)
In closing, may I again express my very deep appreciation to the Congress, and particularly to this committee, for your support and understanding of the problems of our Nation's veterans. I pledge to you on behalf of the millions of Legionnaires and members of the Auxiliary throughout the country, our continuing cooperation in the development and maintenance of our veterans benefits program.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. [Applause.] Chairman Dorn. The materials that you requested shall be included, Mr. Matthews, without any objection. Mr. Matthews, I want to thank you for a truly outstanding statement in which the Chair concurs. We must appear before the Rules Committee at 11:30 and I know Mr. Helstoski has to go right now, so I will ask if he has any comments. Mr. Helstoski is a very fine member of our committee, Mr. Commander, and chairman of the Education Subcommittee of the Committee. Mr. Helstoski?
Mr. HELSTOSKI. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank National Commander Joe Matthews for his very lucid and cogent statement. I would like to suggest that this committee is aware of some of the problems that have developed with our returning Vietnam veterans and we will try, and you can count on my support, to evolve the kind of legislation that will be beneficial to the returning Vietnam veteran and to address ourselves to the resolutions the American Legion has passed.
Mr. MATTHEWS. Thank you, Mr. Congressman.
Mr. TEAGUE of Texas. Mr. Commander, I would like to make a couple of comments on your statement on page 6. First, I would like to say, I am very pleased to see the importance you put on the medical program and I think the VA medical program is really the heart and soul of all VA programs. You say the principal conclusion of the committee on the hospitals was that there is a threat to the VA medical care program posed by any national health insurance plan that may be enacted into law. The next sentence is, “While it may seem premature ***.” I would like to say to you that it can be documented beyond doubt that your concern is not premature.
In fact, there is a letter in the files of this committee some place that came from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget saying that the whole VA hospital system was being considered in the national health considerations.
Ever since I came to Washington, I think the biggest enemy that our veterans programs has had has been the Bureau of the Budget, now the Office of Management and Budget. I do not necessarily blame any President. Since I have been here, I have met with all of them and I have always found a very sympathetic ear.
If it were possible to prove it, I would bet you almost anything that President Nixon did not know about the effect of the proposed changes in the rating schedule, and how it would affect disabled veterans. I will bet you he was given only one side of the two veterans' bills that he vetoed last year or he wouldn't have vetoed them, because I by no stretch of the imagination believe that President Nixon is antiveteran or against our veterans programs. There is no question he has got the toughest job in the world and he has to listen to a lot of people. It is just too bad we don't have somebody at the Bureau of the Budget to be on the veterans' side, but we haven't had since I have come here.
The other comment I would like to make that many of you people may not know is that jurisdiction over cemetery legislation and battle monuments has been placed under this committee, and this last fall the gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Saylor, and I separately made a tour of the cemeteries. I went to the cemeteries in England and France, and I wish everyone could see those cemeteries of ours.
I have gone into French cemeteries, British cemeteries, German cemeteries, and our cemeteries where our men are buried are a credit to our country. Different military units were permitted to put up monuments across France, and there are many that are falling down and have no care. The weeds are growing up around them. We do need some legislation so that they can correct that.
John and I have not talked about our trip but I think we both came up with the same conclusions. We went from a cemetery down in Normandy a very short distance to a German cemetery where 25,000 Germans are buried and a colonel who is assigned to the Battle Monuments Commission made the remark that the two cemeteries proved we were the winner and they the loser of the war. Ours are beautiful with an individual white cross at each grave, well kept. In the German cemetery the crosses were dark, their
men are buried en masse, and I think his statements were very true. But we do need to do something about individual problems the States have. Pennsylvania and