Vietnam Veterans of America response to the Disability Commission
"Mr. Chairman and other distinguished members of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, on behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and our National President, John P. Rowan, I am pleased to have this opportunity to present our views on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) issue currently being reviewed by the Commission. VVA is most appreciative of you inviting us to provide oral testimony and a statement for the record in this matter. We are also appreciative of the leadership of the veterans on the Commission in seeking to improve programs and services for our service connected disabled veterans and their families.
Much that is negative and unfortunately ad hominem has been said on the Internet and elsewhere regarding the Commission and the Commissioners in recent months, particularly in the last few weeks regarding this issue of whether you are to examine SSDI. The fear of an “offset” only adds to an atmosphere that has been increasingly poisoned ever since the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mischaracterized their own report on the VA claims process in May of 2005, and improperly used the word “fraud” nine times in their public briefing.
I feel compelled to state that VVA has faith in the honesty, good faith, and good will of each of you individually, although we are much less sure of the process, or that this is a realistic undertaking to accomplish the mission in the way you have publicly stated you wish to do so.
VVA does believe that your efforts and organizational ability to communicate must be greatly enhanced, and soon, for veterans to have any confidence in the process. VVA also reiterates our verbal request that all transcripts of hearings and meetings be posted on the Internet in a timely manner, VVA also urges that efforts to publicize your hearings as you move about the country, as well as here in the Washington area, be done much more effectively. There simply cannot be too much transparency in this process from our perspective.
As to the matter at hand, I will be brief in noting that there are five major points VVA strongly believes you should consider before you vote as to whether to proceed in regard to tackling yet another major area, that of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) later today.
The first major point is the extremely vital one that VVA brought to your attention last summer in our statement of July 22, 2005.
Our primary recommendation to the Commission is that the current VA compensation and pension system is fundamentally a good one; one that needs to be executed, updated, fine-tuned and funded properly. Such being the case, there is no need to dismantle, revise or otherwise modify the essential elements of service-connected compensation, such as the definitions of who is a “veteran” for purposes of eligibility or “service-connected disability” for purposes of entitlement to benefits.
VVA reiterated this point in our statement of September 15, 2005 when we noted:
VVA strongly urges that you create a fourth subcommittee to generate research topics as to the mechanism(s) available to actually implement any recommendations that this Commission may make, or that ultimately may be enacted into law. As stated above, VVA maintains that the basic assumptions and premises of the compensation system are sound. The problem is the way the laws are administered, and a rating schedule that needs to be updated. The Compensation & Pension system is, frankly, a mess, despite the fact that the vast majority of the people in the VA who do the work are good, hard-working people, and would do a good job if they were properly trained, supervised, allowed to do their job if they had the right tools and adequate time – and all (particularly managers at every level) were properly held accountable for actual performance.
You and those veterans on the Commission have and will continue to work very hard to do the best job you can. You can make all the recommendations in the world that are conceptually sound, but given the current mechanism for implementing them, your recommendations would be made into a mash in short order. The overall questions that this fourth subcommittee should be addressing are these: Is it the fundamental concept, or is it that the current system has been so badly run for so long that it has distorted the original concept in the actual practice? Is it the intent of the Commission to make the compensation system more fair and equitable to the individual citizen who has served his/her country honorably, or is it to limit benefits with an eye toward cutting overall costs? While the Chairman has tried to reassure all concerned on this last question that the intent of the Commission is not just to cut benefits and reduce costs, the shape of the projected questions that have been proposed as a basis for inquiry, research, and study would seem to suggest otherwise.
VVA notes for the record that no such initiative has been implemented by the Commission, and that, to our knowledge, no serious consideration has been given to studying the “null hypothesis;” e.g., that the primary problem with the nation’s system for determining disabilities and compensating veterans is fundamentally sound on a philosophic and legal basis, but rather the problems of implementation have made a mess, and continue to make a mess of what should, and still could be a fair and equitable system with the right resources, proper substantive training, leadership, competency based training of all involved, and much greater accountability for performance from VA managers as well as workers.
Our second point is that the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) system is not a veterans’ benefit, nor was it intended to be. We understand that at least one commissioner has said that because veterans paid into the system while they were in the military possibly for only two years or less, and while many have paid into that system for thirty-five or forty years since discharge, that the brief time paid in makes it a “disabled veteran benefit.”
Frankly, this is as intellectually specious as claiming that because many veterans paid auto insurance and Department of Motor Vehicle charges on their car in their home state while they were in the military that auto insurance is a “veterans’ benefit.”
VVA’s third point is that our organization is against a “disabled veterans tax”, no matter what the guise. Just as prohibition of concurrent receipt of military pension for longevity and VA compensation for service connected disabilities is essentially a tax levied on veterans for being disabled, so too would any offset of any SSDI payments to American citizens who happen to be veterans who are disabled as a result of their military service. The Federal laws, regulations, as well as the patterns and practices governing Social Security in general, and Social Security Disability in particular are totally different from those governing VA Compensation & Pension. The SSDI criteria, categories, and definitions of disabilities differ greatly from those of VA and Title 38, United States Code.
To even contemplate an “offset” says to us that there is contemplated new tax increase on veterans for being both disabled and an American citizen under the civilian system, and for being disabled as a result of something that traces to their military service.
While we understand that you have publicly stated that it is not your intent to move toward “offsets,” that is precisely the fear of many veterans.
Gathering the data (which in and of itself may well be of questionable legality without the consent of all of the veterans involved) simply means that someone on this commission, or on the staff, is contemplating using it. You do not put the clip in a weapon and the round in the chamber unless you are seriously contemplating pulling the trigger. This would seem an apt analogy to the gathering of SSDI data.
Fourth, the thirteen of you who are commissioners, whom we believe to be good people of integrity, intelligence, and conscience, have been laboring to address an absolutely huge area of knowledge and law.
We are keenly aware that the practice of veterans’ law is complex and difficult, as is understanding the unique problems of veterans’ health (and therefore disabilities of veterans). You have a very small staff of only seven persons, so we are led to believe. You have now limited yourselves to only being able to charge five hours per week, outside of actual meetings, to study and do your reading and homework.
Frankly, Title 10 and Title 38 as they pertain to disabilities for Americans who have served in the United States Armed Services, is a very large task to take on in the short time Congress has given you, particularly given that you have further limited yourselves as to study time. Your task is great and the time is short between now and the early autumn of 2007. VVA has to ask why in the world you would take on a whole new body of law and try to master understanding how SSDI works, given what you already have to do.
VVA would also point out that getting into the subject matter of SSDI also treads heavily into another Committee’s area of jurisdiction far removed from the service members or the veterans’ world. Frankly, the Social Security people do not take veteran status into account, nor would it seem that many of us have the expertise to delve into this realm, including many of us who have dealt with Title 38 and veterans’ benefits for thirty years.
Fifth, and lastly, if the Commission is going to start delving into all income and all wealth of each service member or veteran, where do you stop? Do you examine 401(k) plans and possible “offsets?” Stock & Bond portfolios? Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) that people built after (or possibly even partially during) military service? Inherited land? The spouse’s income? The income of the extended family?
The answer to all of these is a resounding "NO!” you do not have the right to get into these areas, as they have nothing to do with the individual citizen’s military service.
VVA does not, and will never accept this attitude, whether intended or not, as it does great dishonor and disservice to the men and women who have served their nation well in military service, and are now lessened by virtue of military service.
We trust that the points outlined above will significantly assist the Commission in your task today. We wish to emphasize that as the Commission assesses the applicable laws and regulations that determine VA claimants’ eligibility for benefits, the appropriateness of the VA rating schedule and comparable Federal, state and private sector disability programs, you will bear in mind the unique nature of military service and the sacrifice of our citizen soldiers.
Veterans’ health problems are really occupational health problems of a collection of very dangerous occupations in which we engaged in order to protect America. In addition, veterans are a special class of individuals, who did and do what others were reluctant or refused to do, and deserve a disability compensation system as unique as they are and as functional as can be possible.
Chairman Scott, VVA sincerely appreciates the opportunity to share our views with the Commission and stands ready to assist in any way. We look forward to your questions today, and to further discussing the above noted points and those of other witnesses here today."
As far as the trust in this committee and its agenda I have no trust in this nor the process.
We all know recently as has been proven the VA including the Secretary will lie at the drop of a hat not only to us but also to congress. While we care it seems the congress does not care that the recent data crap put forth was a far as 61% off of actual data. VA employees clearly stated they felt pressured to fudge the numbers and actual facts.
This committee is funded by the VA - this committee is directed by the VA liaison Representative to the committee a Mr. Ray Wilburn - this committee outside of Mr. Wilburn was politically appointed - this committee votes in secret.
Now why would I distrust the processes of this committee?
Where is the track in the sand back to the politicians? There is none and that includes the six members appointed by our President, the executive branch; not the law makers.
This is not even close to a kangaroo court like the VACEH; it is much worse than that.
Trust after forty years of lies no sir not me. Not in this deal with our own congress giving this Commission the go ahead.
I am glad to see the VVA pointed out the concern I have voiced already as to what is considered next. Our wives retirement that she worked for all her life to subsidize the disabled veterans since our government likes to create veterans and then not support them.
I am also glad the VVA pointed out at least nicely, of which I will not do, is that the VA and the government is rewarded for BAD PERFORMANCE YEAR AFTER YEAR - SECRETARY AFTER SECRETARY. It is called a yearly budget control.
I can tell you if I was in charge and I found that a team of VA office workers could not get an automatically approved disorder completed and money in hand to the Veteran in less than 6 months they had better have had a good reason or they would be out and if I could not fire them they would remain a GS flunky their entire career. Instead the VA promotes workers like that as a reward.
Yet, this commission is not interested in such things. Only things that benefit the government such as lump sum payments to get Vets off of the books, file within two years or you are prohibited, doing away with the "Benefit of the Doubt" of which no one on the damn committee can define where the benefit is given and how it is applied to begin with nor can the VA, (I asked in person), then we have the NAS/IOM study on PTSD and I will guarantee you the results now before the study is completed. If you are honest with yourself you know what it is going to be also.
Everything this committee is looking at is cost cutting and then add the Social Security issue and they say they are not looking at this as an agenda. BS The questions as the VVA also pointed out the Committee is supposed to answer is all cost cutting and they wonder why there is no Veterans trust.
What frosts my butt is the President can give an extra 1 billion dollars for illegals health care and then for four months the congress argues over 1.5 billion to provide the VA for their BS accounting fraud. I for one have chalked that one up to a learning experience of who is really important in this nation with our Presidents and our entire Congress.
It ain't our used up government asset toxic chemical caused neuropathy hairless butts but the illegals that come first.
Best to all,