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Mr. Chairman, introduce to you the national finance officer of AMVETS, Mr. John Tooey from the State of Massachusetts, also Mr. Burge Avidenean, who is serving as the chairman of our national security commission, and Mr. Joseph Ramsey and Ms. “Peggy" Ramsey.
Joe Ramsey is our immediate past national commander. [Statement follows:]
STATEMENT OF JOSEPH R. SANSON, NATIONAL COMMANDER OF
AMVETS, ACCOMPANIED BY MARSHALL MILLER, PAST NATIONAL COMMANDER, LESTER SPEIR, CONSULTANT AND LEON SANCHEZ, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE AND SERVICE DIRECTOR
Commander Sanson. Mr. Chairman and members of this committee, it is a very high honor for me to appear before you as the leader of a quarter-million veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It was in 1947 that AMVETS became recognized as the American Veterans of World War II by a congressional charter, later amended to include veterans of the Korean conflict and the Vietnam era.
At the very outset of this presentation, it is my desire to extend to you, Chairman Dorn, my heartiest congratulations in your new office on this most important committee dealing with legislation pertinent to almost 29 million citizens of these United States who have served their country and earned the right and privilege to be called "veteran.” I pledge to you the total support of AMVETS in carrying out the very important functions of your oflice. I also extind this spirit of cooperation to all members of this House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and its staff. The concerns and interests of this organization today can be identified as follows: (1) The need to improve the image of the returning Vietnam era veteran, and thereby increase his employment and reemployment rights privileges, (2) enactment of a veterans' health care expansion bill, (8) Approval of legislation authorizing Veterans' Administration treatment of drug abuse problems for veterans regardless of the type of discharge they have received, (4) approval of a national cemeteries bill, (5) amending pension legislation to prevent reductions caused by increases in social security and public and private retirement plans, and (6) returning the observance of Veterans' Day to November 11. The position of ANVETS on other subjects under general discussion in the Congress will be authorized in my presentation.
THE RETURNING VIETNAM ERA VETERAN
The time of my administration could very well be called honor the Vietnam veteran. From the first day I assumed the office of national commander, I perceived that the Vietnam veteran's image was not being etched in glory. It can be said that the brass bands and red carpet were not in evidence when the young soldier, sailor, or marine returned home after serving his country honorably and well. As we l'eported to this committee last year, it is ironic that the counterparts of these veterans—those in the same age group who have never been in the Armed Forces—were more successful in securing employment.
The record is better today than it was a year ago. Recognition of the success of the President's 6-point program to aid veterans in the field of employment needs positive recognition. As of the end of February the unemployment rate of Vietnam era veterans 20 to 29 years of age stood at 5.7 percent seasonally adjusted—the same rate as the nonveterans counterparts. From an 8-percent rate early in the calendar year to 5.7 is real progress, however, much remains to be accomplished:
1. Approximately 45,000 young veterans will be discharged each month during this year.
2. Vietnam era veterans age 20 to 24 are experiencing a 9.4-percent unemployment rate.
3. The pool of unemployed Vietnam era veterans stands at 240,000.
4. Disabled veterans' unemployment rate is estimated to be approximately 14 percent.
5. Special attention must be given veterans who lack marketable skills and are undereducated.
As mandated by resolution at our last national convention, AMVETS will continue our efforts at local and State levels and the national level supporting the jobs for veterans effort and those of the Veterans Employment Service. This committee's recognition and support of these programs is sincerely requested.
AMVETS is also very concerned about another group of veterans who really should experience very little or no difficulty in the return to civilian pursuits. These are the veterans returning or attempting to return to civilian employment interrupted by military service. The Federal law which assures such reemployment rights to private industry and the Federal Government does not provide mandatory reemployment rights with States and their political subdivisions. Furthermore, as a result of either a provision in the law establishing the new U.S. Postal Service or an interpretation of the law, postal employee veterans seeking restoration equity now have no recourse outside the Postal Service itself. We find it difficult to believe that Congress in establishing the Postal Service intended to limit or restrict existing appeal rights of postal employees seeking proper restoration following military service. We find then, Federal, State, and local government employees without enforceable rights in spite of the "sense of the Congress provision urging such employers to adapt similar restoration rules." While most of the States have enacted some sort of reemployment rights legislation, this State legislation is commonly limited to certain narrow categories of State employees and often interpreted as being optional with the employing agency or locality.
Enforcement of such is usually only through private litigation at the expense of the veteran. Believing that this legal discrimination against veterans who left employment in this large and growing segment of the economy is no longer defensible, AMVETS urge that section 9 of the Military Selective Service Act be amended to include postal, State and local government employees, including public school teachers, policemen, and firemen, within the mandatory reemployment rights provision of the act and to make the assistance of the Federal Government available to these employees on the same basis as it is now available to other emplovees in the private industry and other Federal employment.
While AMVETS is also apprehensive about certain other aspects of the Postal Service's approach to veterans preference benefitsappeal rights, for example-at this time we, like many others, are willing to wait and see what they deliver—no pun intended.
In order to improve their image, it would be helpful to focus attention of the American public on the problems of the returning Vietnam veterans. We, therefore, strongly support legislation introduced by Congressman Gilman, House Joint Resolution 381, authorizing the President to proclaim a Vietnam Veterans Day after the United States has properly concluded its participation in hostilities in Southeast Asia and all our POW's have returned. Such legislation, if approved, would invite and encourage the citizens of the United States, especially veterans' groups, churches and their affiliated organizations to observe such Vietnam Veterans Day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.
This day of honor would go a long way toward turning around the negative image of the young Vietnam veteran to the rightfully positive one of a mature, intelligent and forward-looking veteran eager to participate in the economic and social processes he sought to preserve. We commend this endeavor to the members of this committee—leading the way in elevating the recognition accorded our returning servicemen and women.
Many resolutions were approved at our 28th national convention last August in New Orleans, La. We will always be mindful that the late Honorable Hale Boggs addressed our convention and received a rising ovation from our delegates following his pledge of continuing efforts in support of the veteran, his widow, and dependents. We shared with you the days of apprehension after he was reported missing with your colleague, Congressman Begich of Alaska, and we share your sadness that they are not among us today, but we rededicate ourselves with the inspiration of the words delivered by Congressman Boggs to our 1972 convention. The resolutions approved by our various committees are appended to this report for your study and use in proposed legislation. The work of this committee in the 93d Congress should most certainly include efforts to reenact H.R. 10880, the Veterans Health Care Expansion Act of 1972 and H.R. 12674, the National Cemetery Act of 1972. The action of the President in vetoing these two bills, only a few days after Congress adjourned last October 18, made impossible an overriding of the vetoes. Incidentally, we are discussing two bills that were passed almost unanimously last year by the House and Senate and reintroduced and approved by the Senate a few weeks ago.
We urge early attention to these cemetery and veterans' health care bills. You are all aware that the closing last November of the national cemeteries at Gettysburg, Pa., and Culpepper, Va. increases the problem of available sites for burial of honorably discharged veterans. The future status of Arlington National Cemetery should be studied as recommended in the vetoed legislation. AMVETS supports the plan whereby responsible Members of Congress and Government agencies involved undertake the necessary procedures for obtaining and transferring adjacent properties, such as property on which naval barracks “K” is located, to the agency now responsible for the continued operation of Arlington National Cemetery.
VETERANS' ADMINISTRATION MEDICAL PROGRAM
The necessity for the approval of an omnibus veterans health care bill is indicated by the steady and alarming increase in the cost of medical care, and the advancing age of our members. H.R. 10880 would for the first time have authorized VA hospital and nursing care for wives and children of permanently and totally disabled service connected veterans; for widows and children of deceased service connected veterans. It would have authorized night, holiday and overtime differential pay for nurses in VA facilities. It would have also authorized increased per diem rates for State soldiers homes that provide hospital, domiciliary and nursing care for veterans. We would not presume to estimate the time, effort and dedication given to this legislation by the members of this committee and your staff. We urge you to establish a high priority for veterans' health care legislation.
Forward progress in medical care has been the hallmark of the Veterans Administration medical program. We have seen the advent of sophisticated treatment procedures that only recently were experiments-miracle drugs and innovative treatment that revolutionized mental health care bringing about the discharge of patients from psychiatric hospitals that only yesterday were in locked wards. The very heart of this medical progress has been the VA's independent nature; its ability to do its own research; its ability to train its own medical people. We urge this committee to prevent the stifling of this independence or have it encumbered under some alleged great central medical program.
A MORE EQUITABLE PENSION PROGRAM The VA pension program must receive, and is receiving your attention to prevent reductions and discontinuances of pensions. About 24,000 veterans and widows of veterans have lost their pensions and over a million pension checks have been reduced because of the 1972 increase in social security and railroad retirement benefits. We urge consideration of a bill to increase pension rates and income limits to assure that no VA pension will be reduced or discontinued because of social security increases or similar increases in other public and private retirement plans. Let us remember that this is a benefit earned by the veteran by rendering service to his country.
The Federal Government has reported new income guidelines used by the Government to determine whether a person is poor. Under these guidelines a single person is considered poor if he has a net income of less than $2,100 per year. The poverty level for a family of four is $4,200 in determining eligibility for Federal poverty programs. Yet the present law regarding VA pensions for totally disabled veterans and widows terminates eligibility if a single veteran or widow without children has income in excess of $2,600 and also terminates pension payments for a veteran or widow with children if income exceeds $3,800. AMVETS cannot accept the concept implicit in these figures that the Congress is willing to allow its veterans, their widows and children, to exist on a poverty level. AMVETS believe that no person who has served his country, or his widow and dependents, should live in poverty or found to be in need. This country is too great to permit even one veteran or veteran's widow to suffer the bare necessities of life.
VETERANS’ ADMINISTRATION TREATMENT FOR DRUG ABUSE Much attention was given by the last Congress to the problem of the returning Vietnam veteran with a drug addiction habit. The Vetcrans Administration could not treat many veterans due to the nature of their discharges. H.R. 9265, which had passed both Houses with amendments, would have given the Veterans' Administration authority to care for drug dependent veterans, regardless of the type of discharge received from the service. Although AMVETS has traditionally supported the argument that only honorably discharged veterans are entitled to Veterans' Administration benefits, we are in agreement that in this instance the drug abused veteran must be given special consideration in order to enhance his ability to rehabilitate himself and take his rightful place in the community.
The incidence of alcoholism among the veteran population is probably no more than in society generally-1 out of every 15 people have this illness in some degree. Modern medical techniques are now applied to this treatable disease. The alcoholic veteran can no longer be turned away from the veterans' hospitals as a public nuisance or sequestered in a domiciliary. The Veterans Administration is, therefore, strongly urged to provide good, up-to-date medical care for the veteran alcoholic and to link onto the counseling services of the National Council on Alcoholism. The patient should be exposed to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous at the hospital site and encouraged to continue this kind of therapy after release from the hospital.
Our members have been disturbed by the recent decision of a U.S. district court judge ruling that it was a constitutional denial of equal protection of the law for Congress and the Veterans' Administration to provide educational assistance to veterans while denying it to conscientious objectors who performed other service in lieu of military service. Information has been supplied our office that an crganization known as the Committee for Legal Research on the Draft at Harvard Law School is advising all interested and eligible conscientious objectors to apply for veterans educational benefits. We, the American Veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, wish to make it known that we oppose this ruling as being detrimental to the cause of all veterans, their widows, and their families who have served their country honorably and to those of our POW's/MIA's still not back home with their loved ones.
Much discussion has taken place and valuable time of our congressional bodies will be burdened by the demands for amnesty legislation. We of AMVETS cannot support the argument that we should forgive those who left this country, or deserted while in service. Draft resisters, draft dodgers, and deserters do not want to accept responsibility. For running out on the Americans who stayed and did their duty. They say we must show compassion. But is not compassion a twoway street ? What compassion did they show those who defended their country-many returning with grave disability—the loss of a limb, confinement to a wheelchair for life, or yes, even the loss of life itself. I do not believe that those self-determined exiles would want to be judged by a jury of their peers--the returned wounded and disabled Vietnam veteran, or our POW's that we proudly saw returning a few days ago.