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swamped with letters and phone calls expressing fears and anxieties over the proposed reductions.
The DAV had already formed a special working committee to review rating schedule changes. Six national service officers all of whom are experts in the field of disability ratings, were appointed to the committee.
The committee members are in the process of refining and finalizing a full report on the changes; however, preliminary findings are very instructive and revealing. It is shown that proposed reductions do not correspond at all with the actual extent or seriousness of the disabilities listed.
It discloses that the proposed schedule would reduce an overall total of 833 disability categories; that 202 schedular ratings would be reduced below the 30-percent level, thereby eliminating entitlement to vocational rehabilitation; that 149 ratings would be reduced below the 50-percent level, thereby eliminating monthly allowances for dependents; that 121 ratings would be reduced below the 60-percent level, thereby eliminating possible entitlement to a total rating based on individual unemployability; that eight separate 100-percent ratings for serious disabilities would be reduced below that level, thereby eliminating consideration for aid and attendance and housebound benefits, as well as educational assistance for wives and children. Mr. Chairman, according to VA figures 636,000 veterans would have their compensation reduced.
The effects of the reductions are not limited to compensation payments. They would eliminate commissary privileges, and entitlement to medical care in certain instances. Many disabled servicemen would have their retirement benefits reduced, others would lose their retirement benefits altogether.
VA non-service-connected pension entitlement for veterans under age 65 would also be affected adversely. Moreover, the reductions could reach down to the State level and take away benefits established by State legislatures.
Our rating schedule committee found many other equally outrageous proposed revisions that, if placed in force, would be the cruelest sort of deception on the disabled veterans of America.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, the VA study to validate the 1945 schedule for rating disabilities started out years ago as a pilot project. Then, in 1967, the full-scale study began. From the very start the Veterans Administration pursued a wavering, ambiguous, and sometimes puzzling course before distributing its final report on February 6, 1973.
It is our feeling that the revisions would have been more valid if an independent body-not under control of the OMB—had been commissioned to undertake the study.
We had been told through the years that the underlying concept of the study was to bring about improvements in the disability rating system. It was only natural then to expect that the ultimate recommendations would be of lasting benefit to disabled veterans, particularly those who had lost their limbs in combat. Apparently unmindful of the sacrifices of these seriously disabled veterans, it was recommended that their compensation payments be reduced sharply.
If the reductions become final, the service-connected amputee will be left with a permanent disability as a reward for duty well performed and a pittance as the only form of recognition for his service.
I wish to take this occasion to express our grateful thanks to the chairman and members of the committee who, in a strictly nonpartisan spirit, worked so effectively to convince the President that the proposed revisions were wrong and counterproductive. We applaud the chairman and his colleagues for having introduced on March 13 the bill, H.R. 5498.
It would (1) require the VA Administrator to refer to the Congress for approval any proposed changes in the disability rating schedule; (2) require congressional consent to close any VA hospital, domiciliary, or regional office; and (3) forbid the transfer or sale of VA real property unless notice is first submitted to the Congress.
The legislation would insure that disabled veterans will not lose their compensation benefits provided for them by this committee and the Congress. It will also insure that VA services will remain accessible to veterans at the local level. Indeed, all disabled veterans, particularly the seriously disabled amongst us, will be greatly reassured by the terms of the legislation.
I respectfully ask that this measure—so vitally important to the Nation's disabled veterans—be reported to the House for a vote as quickly as possible. We are certain that early and favorable action by the committee and the Congress will discourage any absurd and unfair changes contemplated as a result of the “intensive study” now going on in the Administrator's office.
Mr. Chairman, I realize that I've dwelt at some length and with some intensity on the proposed revisions of the schedule, but I felt compelled to do so because, as I indicated earlier, it is of such overriding importance to America's wartime disabled.
Perhaps the cruelest irony in the entire matter is that successive Administrators, in reports to this committee, used both the pilot study and the full-scale study of the schedule as a reason for persistently opposing legislation to increase compensation benefits. This is especially true with respect to the $47 monthly statutory award payable to veterans who have suffered the loss of certain parts of the body. The payments for these special awards have not been increased in the last 21 years.
With these thoughts in mind, we express the hope that the committee will closely examine and evaluate the disability compensation program during the current session of the Congress.
We feel that compensation rates paid disabled veterans should be reappraised from time to time to keep pace with national income averages and to realistically represent the earnings veterans are denied by their disabilities.
Should the committee hold hearings on the compensation program, we will be pleased to appear and discuss in depth all facets of this important subject.
HOSPITAL AND MEDICAL CARE
The program of hospital and medical care for disabled war veterans is a matter of great significance to the DAV. I want to say, at once, Mr. Chairman, that the DAV owes a great debt of gratitude to you and the committee members for all your earnest and reasoned efforts to help maintain a high level of care for patients in VA hospitals.
I am frank to say that these efforts are very often frustrated when the VA's Department of Medicine and Surgery is forced to adjust to leaner allowances from the Office of Management and Budget. The cuts in VA medical funds for fiscal year 1974 is a classic example of the prevailing mood in the OMB.
The 1974 VA budget reflects a $5.8 million reduction for medical and prosthetic research and a cut of $81 million in hospital construction. The budget accommodates an 80,000 daily-patient census in VA hospitals despite congressional language in the law explicitly stating that an 85,500 daily-patient load should be maintained. Not a
provided for construction of the eight new medical schools authorized in the Medical School Assistance and Health Service Personnel Training Act of 1972—another instance where the diehard element within the OMB is using every pretext to circumvent or avoid an enforceable provision of law enacted by the legislative branch of our Government.
In its budget, the VA requested an average of 132,169 employees for its hospital program. The OMB reduced this figure to 120,000, a reduction of 12,169 employees.
It is our hope and expectation that this committee and the Congress will do its best to see that funds for space, equipment, and personnel are made available to enable the VA hospital system to effectively fulfill its stated mission.
Mr. Chairman, your committee has under consideration H.R. 2900 and S. 59, to provide improved medical care to veterans' hospital and medical care to certain dependents and survivors of veterans, and improve the recruitment and retention of career personnel in the Department of Medicine and Surgery.
The bills are similar to the 92d Congress bill, H.R. 10880, which, as you know, was vetoed by the President after the Congress had adjourned last year. We are pleased indeed that Mr. Satterfield's Subcommittee on Hospitals is holding hearings on the bills tomorrow morning. Our director of legislation, Chet Huber, will present testimony expressing our support for these important measures.
One final medical item that bears comment has to do with legislative proposals to develop a national health insurance program to be administered by HEW or State governments under HEW control.
The DAV is naturally concerned about the future role the VA hospital systems will play in any new national health care plan. We know that the committee shares our concern and that the members will do what is required to defeat any threat to dismantle the VA hospital system.
The DAV has been constant in its support of legislation proposing jurisdictional transfer of the national cemetery system from the Army to the Veterans' Administration.
The 93d Congress bill, H.R. 2828, which was introduced by the chairman and members of the committee, offers new hope for the declining burial program and the establishment of a unified and orderly cemetery system. We know that the committee will agree that there is
a great sense of urgency in this legislation that calls for its early enactment and implementation.
Mr. Chairman, now that the hostilities are coming to a close in Southeast Asia, the amnesty issue is receiving wide coverage on television and in newspaper columns.
The DAV's views on the subject were expressed to the committee last year. Our feeling then, and our feeling now, is across-the-board
, amnesty would set a dangerous precedent. We believe that all those who were called to serve, and who instead chose flight, should be held accountable for their act, that each case should be considered and decided on its own merits, and only after all POW's and MIA's are returned or accounted for.
Mr. Chairman, there are other matters of no small importance relating to veterans' benefits which will draw our attention during the course of the current session of the Congress. They make no demands for more new and costly programs, but only for improvements in the benefits already established.
The special subjects which I have commented upon in this statement represent the larger and more immediate concerns of the DAV. I felt compelled to place heavy emphasis on the rating schedule revisions, for they have had a profound and crushing impact upon the disabled veterans of America.
If the VA validation study served any constructive purpose, it is this: It brought out the fact that the benefits so generously granted by this committee and the Congress are never entirely secure; and in this connection it is comforting to know that our calls for help are always given a prompt and compassionate response by the thoughtful, hard-working members of this committee.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I again want to express our grateful appreciation for giving us this opportunity to appear before you. I also want to acknowledge with sincere thanks the cooperation, interest, and help extended to us by the highly dedicated staff members of the Veterans Affairs Committee. I thank them all for giving their very best efforts in the interests of all those who served in the Nation's Armed Forces.
Thank you. [Applause.]
I might say that over the years the Disabled American Veterans program has always been reasonable and concise and very much appreciated by the committee. And your outstanding statement today is no exception. [The letter previously referred to follows:]
DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS,
Washington, D.C., March 15, 1973.
DEAR MR. SECRETARY: We certainly welcome this opportunity to meet with you and members of your staff regarding the pressing problems of unemployment among disabled veterans of this nation. We, in the Disabled American Veterans, are serionsly concerned about the degree of effective employment assistance being delivered to handicapped veterans who, either by law or policy directives, are supposed to receive priority and preference.
The validity of our concern is supported by official Department of Labor statistics for Fiscal Year 1972 and the first six months of Fiscal Year 1973. In Fiscal Year 1972, of the 447,707 handicapped veterans registered for employment assistance with 2,400 public Employment Service offices, only 64,727 (14.4%) were placed in regular jobs and 8,264 (1.8%) were enrolled in training. The younger disabled Vietnam-era veterans were placed at the rate of 20.4%, whereas, disabled veterans of all other wars were placed at the rate of 11%. It becomes quite obvious that almost 375,000 registered handicapped veterans received neither a job nor a training slot. This pattern has never been continued in the first six months of Fiscal Year 1973 which indicates that of 319,000 registered handicapped veterans, only 38,000 (11.9%) were placed in jobs and 4,000 (1.25%) were enrolled in training. Again, the younger disabled veteran fared better than the older disabled veteran, as his placement rate was 15.2% with a 9.39% rate applicable to the older handicapped veteran.
The Disabled American Veterans has conducted two employment surveys of disabled Vietnam-era veterans, one in November 1971 at which time 101,178 were contacted, and the most recent in January and February of 1973 when 23,807 were queried. In both surveys we had a significant response which concluded to substantially higher unemployment rates among disabled veterans than officially disclosed in the Department of Labor statistics. Our most recent survey results, a copy of which is attached, indicate that of 4,638 respondents, 53% are unemployed but 71% want jobs, implying not only a great degree of unemployment but substantial’underemployment as well. Each of our respondents indicating a request for employment assistance will receive such assistance by a referral of questionnaires to local Veterans Employment Representatives of the public Employment Service through our DAV Department Commanders.
Congress is also keenly aware of the need for improved employment assistance to disabled veterans as represented by the passage of Public Law 92-540, signed by the President on October 24, 1972, which contains many provisions in Chapters 11 and 42 which have as their intent a more effective job counselling, training, and placement service for veterans with "special emphasis” for the employment of qualified disabled veterans and veterans of the Vietnam-era by Federal contractors. The Code of Federal regulations pursuant to Public Law 92–540 and Executive Order 11701, as published in the Federal Register on January 31, 1973 is woefully weak and totally inadequate to comply with the statutory obligation of "special emphasis” by Federal contractors in the employment of qualified disabled veterans. We have since December 1, 1972 exchanged correspondence with your predecessor and the Manpower Administrator requesting appropriate changes in the regulations to insure compliance with the law. We ask that you personally intervene to effect such changes.
The initiation of a cooperative plan between the Manpower Administration and the States to train seriously disabled veterans as employment counselors and placement specialists for other disabled veterans was most welcomed, as this was initially suggested by the Disabled American Veterans. We are distressed, however, that the original intent to hire 450 such seriously disabled veterans was not realized because of severe budgetary restraints imposed upon the States just prior to the implementation of the plan. Again, we request your intervention to continue this very worthwhile program and in fact, to expand it both in scope and funding. Many of these training positions could be filled with the scores of thousands of job seeking disabled veterans who are registered with the public Employment Service.
Since it is apparent that the trend in government appears to be revenue sharing with the States, we are requesting that in any Manpower Revenue Sharing Program (MRSP) veterans preference, particularly that applicable to disabled veterans, be continued as it now exists or strengthened to perpetuate the application of priority and preference in employment services to handicapped veterans.
There are other areas of concern which we may discuss with appropriate staff officials at a later date, but we do request specifically the funding of the 70 additional Assistant Veterans Employment Representatives in the affected States which are specifically documented in the legislative history regarding Public Law 92-540.