American Legion National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Assistant Director Alex Zhang testified before Congress on Sept. 13 to give the Legion’s position on pending legislation.
The hearing, held by the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, took place at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C. Witnesses spoke on three separate panels which included members of the House representatives, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials, as well as five veterans service organizations.
Zhang testified on the Legion’s behalf regarding H.R. 3122, the Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2017.
“H.R. 3122 is a step in a positive direction for veterans as it helps to create protections to prevent or minimize financial scams directed at veterans who are surviving on a minimal salary," Zhang said. “H.R. 3122 also creates a national standard directed by the GAO to other federal agencies to follow the guidelines set in this law.”
Many times veterans are preyed upon by less than scrupulous organizations looking for a quick buck, Zhang said. These veterans are often in nursing homes or living paycheck to paycheck.
The American Legion supports H.R. 3122 and any legislation that aims to stop scams targeting veterans, he said.
“We owe it to the men and women who protected this country by defending them from organizations that thrive on scams targeting veterans,” Zhang said." We applaud Congressman Matt Cartwright for spearheading this initiative.”
The Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act of 2017, currently a draft bill, spells out the steps a debt collector should follow when attempting to collect debt a veteran has incurred.
According to Zhang, this is a necessary precaution as there are many veterans who are unable to fully grasp the magnitude of correspondences sent to their home, or in many instances, never received a letter regarding a collection of debt.
“The American Legion recently assisted a homeless veteran who incurred a large debt after the VA removed her dependents from her benefits retroactively to 2005,” he said. “Due to her homelessness, she was unable to receive the VA’s letter advising her of the debt. Because she was unaware of her options, such as a repayment plan, the VA began recovery of the debt by garnishing all of her VA compensation.
“This went on for about a year before we were able to intervene and assist. It’s stories like this that show the importance of this draft bill. We cannot treat debt collection issues by looking at veterans as ones and zeros on a line item."
If a veteran owes the VA money, Zhang said they should repay, but should at least be treated with dignity and properly informed of their rights before collection starts. Many of these issues can be avoided if the VA remembers that veterans are humans with real-life issues, he said.
“They are not the enemy and should not be treated as such,” Zhang said.
Zhang also addressed H.R. 1900, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act. This bill would designate the Veterans Memorial and Museum, currently being constructed in Columbus, Ohio, as a national museum.
Similar to the Legion, the museum has a four-pillar mission. These pillars, Zhang said, would represent the American veteran with profound respect by honoring them; connecting them to the civilian population; inspiring others to serve; and educating the youth about what these men and women have done for America.
“Truth be told, they raised over $75 million and are currently in the construction process of what looks to be a beautiful and thoughtful memorial," Zhang said. “The American Legion wholeheartedly supports H.R. 1900.”
The museum is scheduled to open in summer of 2018.