Fulfill promises to veterans: from the National Commander.
During the 2012 Mid-Winter Conference, National Commander Donald L. Samuels presented the DAV's National Legislative Program at a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. Commander Samuels called upon lawmakers to fulfill our nation's promises to the men and women who served. Following are highlights of the Commander's presentation, which received enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation from the hundreds of DAV and Auxiliary members gathered for the event.
Madame and Mr. Chairmen and members of the Veterans' Affairs Committees: On behalf of the Disabled American Veterans and its Auxiliary, I am honored for this opportunity to discuss the major concerns and agenda of the Disabled American Veterans for the coming year.
Since 1920, the DAV has remained faithful to our mission of building better lives for our nation's wartime service-disabled veterans, their families and survivors. Part of that mission is advocating for meaningful, reasonable and responsible public policy for service-disabled veterans.
With the end of combat operations in Iraq, the proposed downsizing of our military forces and the slow recovery in our domestic economic situation, more veterans will be relying upon the Department of Veterans Affairs for services and benefits over the next few years. We must ensure that the VA is prepared to handle the large influx of new veterans into its health care or benefits administrations. However, based on my experiences with the VA over the past four decades, I am not yet confident that our government is fully prepared to uphold its promises to the nation's veterans.
All of my adult life has been spent in service to my fellow veterans. When I was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1969, after almost nine years of active duty service, I came to a crossroads. At that point in my life a young, wounded Vietnam veteran dealing with a permanent disability my life could have taken many different directions. However, the DAV was there for me with much-needed help. But the DAV went further and offered me the privilege of helping my fellow veterans. In 1970, following my completion of a 2,600-hour VA Vocational Rehabilitation Training Program, I was assigned as a National Service Officer at the Nashville DAV National Service Office and served there as Supervisor of the office until my retirement in 1989.
After my DAV career, I served as the Assistant Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs until my retirement in April 2011. In that position I supervised all claims activity, outreach, and legislation and played a part in establishing state veterans cemeteries and state veterans homes in Tennessee.
And I continue to be a staunch veterans advocate. I am also the proud father of two sons who have continued our family's commitment to this great nation. My older son is a U.S. Marine master gunnery sergeant, a combat veteran and DAV member. My younger son is a flight engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is also a combat veteran and DAV member.
I also had two sons-in-law who are former Marines, one of whom passed away at age 24 due to a service-connected disability.
Madame and Mr. Chairmen, it is a well-known fact that more than 6,300 military personnel have died from wounds, illnesses and accidents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of thousands more were wounded or injured as a result of their service to our nation. And the VA anticipates providing health care to more than 610,000 post-9/11 veterans next year. That is a major reason why our government must keep its promises to those who serve in our armed forces and to their families and survivors.
None of those men and women joined the military to make a profit or to become wealthy. Like all generations of veterans, they joined the military for the good of our nation and its citizens, to protect our freedom and our safety. Both they and their families made great sacrifices during military service. For many, those sacrifices continue throughout their lifetime. They were put in harm's way because of the actions of our government; therefore, Congress and the administration are responsible, morally and legally, for the well-being of veterans, their families and survivors.
The DAV calls upon the members of these committees to ensure that our government keeps its promise to our nation's disabled veterans.
Madame and Mr. Chairmen, the DAV and the disabled veterans we represent are grateful for the support that your committees and Congress have provided for the VA health care system. The VA has received substantial annual funding increases for medical care programs for more than a decade. More importantly, the. VA has become one of the highest quality health care systems in the world.
And while the President's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for the VA comes close to what the DAV and other veterans groups have recommended, we see the need for additional funding for medical and prosthetic research and for construction as noted in The Independent Budget.
One area of concern is that veterans medical care still is not sufficiently funded. Although advance appropriations have eliminated many of the uncertainties that plagued VA health care for decades, the Government Accountability Office has noted the use of budget gimmicks that rob the system of billions of dollars under the cover of "management efficiencies" and other clever accounting tricks.
Also disturbing is that under the recent continuing resolutions, which Congress passed in the absence of annual appropriations, the VA was forced to devote fewer resources to veterans medical care than Congress authorized for the current year.
The plain fact is that despite funding increases, demand for veterans health care has risen faster than resources allocated to the VA. Yet amid widespread reports of hiring freezes, funding shortfalls and deferral of equipment purchases at medical centers, the VA somehow was able to "carry over" more than a billion dollars that it claims it could not spend in fiscal year 2011.
While the DAV applauds efforts to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending, we are concerned, based on what we hear from VA medical facilities around the country and from our members, that medical services were withheld from veterans due to lack of sufficient funding and unreasonable wait lists.
Madame and Mr. Chairmen, as a service-disabled veteran and a retired National Service Officer, I have taken a great interest in the VA disability evaluation system. Of course, I recognize the importance of having a modern, up-to-date disability rating schedule that reflects advances in medical science. That is a necessary part of ensuring accurate, equitable disability ratings.
Yet I find it very troubling that the VA may be moving toward revising its rating schedule with a greater focus on compensating veterans based on their disabilities' impact on earning capacity, while ignoring other factors such as quality of life and social impairment.
Some argue that if you're able to work, you shouldn't receive disability compensation. But I simply cannot understand such a limited view.
Take for example someone with a master's degree in business who was highly successful in sales before joining the military after 9/11. Say that person had several deployments and suffered posttraumatic stress disorder to such a degree that he or she is no longer able to interact with other people. Consequently, the veteran finds work as a low-wage earner, with minimal interaction with others. So, just because a veteran is able to hold a job - even one that pays a fraction of his or her previous income - disability compensation for PTSD could be reduced.
I can't imagine how you could possibly justify such a travesty. I promise you the DAV will not stand idly by and allow that to happen.
Madame and Mr. Chairmen, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shinseki has focused a great deal of attention on reducing the claims backlog. He has set an extremely ambitious long-term goal of having no claims pending over 125 days and that all claims will be completed to a 98-percent accuracy standard.
Certainly eliminating the backlog will be a welcome milestone; however, clearing the backlog is not necessarily the same as reforming the claims processing system nor does it guarantee that veterans are better served. To achieve real success, the VA must focus on creating a veterans' benefits claims processing system designed to get each claim done right the first time. Only when the VA has adopted a culture of quality, accuracy and accountability will true reform in the claims process succeed.
The DAV looks forward to the rollout of a new electronic Veterans Benefits Management System later this year, the continued development of e-Benefits and the other IT improvements that will modernize claims processing. We will continue to work closely with VB A leaders to ensure the DAV and other VSOs who represent veterans seeking earned benefits are fully integrated into these new IT systems.
Madame and Mr. Chairmen, the men and women seated behind me are vital to our mission and the well-being of our nation's hospitalized, sick and disabled veterans. They represent some of the more than 14,000 DAV and Auxiliary members who volunteer their time at VA medical facilities.
Some of them are volunteer drivers with the DAV's National Transportation Network, which provides free transportation to veterans in every state and nearly every congressional district. Thanks to them, more than 13 million veterans have been transported more than 495 million miles in DAV vans.
Each year, our National Service Officers, all of whom are wartime service-disabled veterans, represent a quarter-million individuals in their claims for benefits from the VA. Among all organizations representing veterans, the DAV helps by far the largest number of claimants annually, ensuring that disabled veterans and their families receive all of the benefits they deserve.
Our highly trained and dedicated National Service Officers provide free representation to any veteran or their dependents and survivors. And I would encourage you to put the veterans in your districts in touch with a DAV National Service Officer when they need assistance.
Our Transition Service Program also provides benefits counseling and assistance to separating military service members. This program is a huge success in helping military members transition back to civilian life and obtain the benefits and services they have earned.
Since the 1970s, the DAV has placed Mobile Service Offices on the road to provide outreach and claims assistance to veterans who are unable to come into our offices These offices on wheels are in your states and districts helping veterans - your constituents - with claims work.
As you can imagine, I am very proud of the work that this great organization does. There is no other veterans service organization that contributes more to the welfare and well-being of our nation's disabled veterans, their families and survivors than the DAV. I can assure you, Madame and Mr. Chairmen, that the DAV stands ready to assist you and your committees in finding ways to improve the services and benefits that veterans have earned from a grateful nation.
This completes my testimony, and my staff and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the DAV to share our proud record of service to veterans and our country.
Soccer Team Scores Goal for DAV ...
The U.S. Men's National Team raised a total of $11,633.19 to benefit the Disabled American Veterans organization with a "Shirts Off Their Backs" auction held last winter. The 18 players who dressed for a Veterans Day match versus France at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis signed their game-worn jerseys and donated them to the auction. Lower right, midfielder Clint Dempsey, and, left, goalkeeper Tim Howard, had the top-grossing jerseys in the auction.