American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Director Chanin Nuntavong testified May 1 before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. His testimony focused on key legislation impacting veterans and their families, including Gold Star families and Blue Water Navy veterans.
H.R. 1126, the Honoring Veterans’ Families Act, aims to amend title 38 of the United States Code and authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide inscriptions for spouses and children on government-issued headstones in private cemeteries. The current law does not allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to add information about spouses and children to the headstone or grave marker of a veteran buried in a non-VA cemetery.
“Including family information on headstones and markers is a standard custom in our society, and the families of veterans should not be different,” Nuntavong said. “H.R. 1126 is a common-sense bill that ensures veterans and their family members receive the support and recognition they deserve.”
H.R. 1200, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2019, will increase the cost of living allowance (COLA) for veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans.
“For one hundred years, The American Legion has advocated on behalf of our nation’s veterans, including the awarding of disability benefits associated with chronic medical conditions,” Nuntavong said. “Annually, veterans and their families are subjects in the debate regarding cost of living adjustments.
“COLA is not just an acronym. It is a tangible benefit that meets the needs of the increasing costs of living in the nation they defended.”
H.R. 1628, the Enewetak Atoll Clean-Up Radiation Study Act , would direct the VA secretary to enter into an agreement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a study on radiation exposure during the clean-up of the Enewetak Atoll. Servicemembers who cleaned nuclear testing sites in the 1970s and 1980s were exposed to toxic chemicals and radiation. These servicemembers suffer from high rates of cancer due to exposure to radiation and nuclear waste. These veterans are currently unable to receive the same disability benefits other veterans who have been exposed to radiation receive from VA.
“The American Legion believes these veterans deserve the same benefits that U.S. law guarantees to other servicemembers impacted by toxic exposures,” Nuntavong said. “And we believe VA is responsible for the care of these atomic clean-up veterans.”
H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, is supported by The American Legion. Blue Water Navy veterans have waited patiently for nearly 50 years to receive disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit ruled in favor of Blue Water Navy veterans in the landmark Procopio v. Wilkie decision. These veterans are now afforded the presumption of Agent Orange exposure and VA must begin to grant the claims of veterans afflicted by the conditions determined as presumptive under U.S. Code.
“We are pleased that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told the Senate he would not ask the Department of Justice to appeal the decision,” Nuntavong said. “Congress should enact into law the broadest definition possible and provide clarity and guidance for the expected VA regulations implementing Procopio.
“Together, we can put this issue to rest once and for all. Our veterans and families deserve no less.”