American Legion National Legislative Division Assistant Director Larry Lohmann testified on pending legislation during a House Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hearing on March 20 in Washington, D.C. The hearing covered House Resolution (H.R.) 4335, the Servicemember Family Burial Act; H.R. 4910, the Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act; H.R. 4958, Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2018; and H.R. 888, a bill to improve dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of certain totally disabled veterans.
Servicemember Family Burial Act
H.R. 4335 seeks to provide headstones and markers for, and interment in national cemeteries of, deceased spouses and dependent children of active duty servicemembers. The American Legion believes that all veterans, active duty members and their families should be honored with final resting places with honor and lasting tributes for their service to our nation.
Lohmann said the Legion also believes that all veterans and their eligible family members have earned burial benefits including a gravesite in any national cemetery with available space, or a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funded state or tribal cemetery including:
The opening and closing of the grave;
Government headstone or marker; and
Perpetual care of the grave at no cost to the family.
With the passage of H.R. 4335, Lohmann said the application process for active duty members will be streamlined with the elimination of the waiver request, which will allow the family additional time to make proper arrangements during a difficult time.
“H.R. 4335 would amend Title 38 to include family members of active duty members of the Armed Forces,” he said. “It just makes sense.”
By Resolution No. 377, the Legion supports legislation to enhance the quality of life for veterans, dependents and their survivors. Lohmann said codifying this to make this benefit permanent for active duty members is common sense and the right thing to do for their service to the country.
Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act
According to Lohmann, The American Legion’s National Cemetery Committee formulates and recommends policies, plans and programs as they relate to VA’s national cemeteries, as well as the internment of veterans, military and their dependents. This includes Arlington National Cemetery which is administered by the Department of the Army.
Lohmann said the National Park Service currently controls 14 national cemeteries, although only two are still active -- Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia and Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Tennessee. Veterans who wish to be buried at these two cemeteries must pay the cost of their own outer burial receptacle (OBR).
Veterans buried in national or state cemeteries controlled by the VA’s National Cemetery Administration are provided an OBR at no cost. Lohmann said this gap in benefits creates an undue burden of expense.
The American Legion supports the Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act because it aims to ensure that veterans receive the same level of benefits and is consistent with the Legion’s Resolution No. 146, which urges Congress to review current legislation and public laws to ensure that veterans’ benefits are provided equitably and consistently for all veterans.
Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act
Under the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Act, the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans will be increased effective Dec. 1, 2018.
Lohmann said disability compensation and pension benefits awarded by the VA are designed to compensate veterans for medical conditions due to service or those who earn below a designated income threshold. H.R. 4958 appropriately recognizes annual increases to costs of living and increases benefits commensurate with those cost increases.
“For these veterans and their family members, this adjustment is a tangible benefit that meets the needs of the increasing costs of living in a nation they defended,” Lohmann said. “Veterans having served our nation have already paid the full price for this benefit and, as such, should not have it diminished for accounting convenience.”
According to Lohmann, The American Legion opposes using any Consumer Price Index that would reduce the annual COLA for military retirees, veterans receiving Social Security benefits or VA beneficiaries. The Legion also appreciates this bill because it does not include round-down provisions, in which veterans’ benefits would be rounded down to the next whole dollar to save money.
“Rounding down is a slippery slope that dilutes the value of future benefits,” said Lohmann. “Veterans should never have their benefits rounded down to provide legislative fiscal ease to help offset the cost of other government action.”
The American Legion is pleased to support H.R. 4958 as provides a periodic COLA increase and will increase the monthly rates of disability compensation.
Improving dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors of certain totally disabled veterans
Lohmann said H.R. 888 will improve and simplify the application process for surviving spouses and children of deceased veterans by requiring the VA to treat notification of the veteran’s death as a claim for Disability and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
“This bill eases the burden currently existing on surviving spouses and children of deceased veterans,” he said.
In 2015, the Legion opposed VA standardization of forms eliminating the ability for informal claims. Since that time, the Legion has supported reinstating informal claims and adopted resolutions to reach that end as well as generally ease administrative burdens on veterans and their families.
Under current law, surviving spouses and children claimants must file a formal claim form to start the claims process for DIC. If the claim is filed within one year of the veteran's death and granted, the VA will then pay retroactive benefits back to the date of the veteran’s death.
The American Legion has long supported any action that makes filing claims easier for veterans and their dependents. By Resolution No. 377, the Legion supports legislation to enhance the quality of life for veterans, dependents and survivors.
“The American Legion believes in common sense solutions that help our nation’s veterans,” Lohman said.
Because the reporting date of a veteran’s death is data that can be easily tracked by the VA for claim establishment and adjudication purposes, Lohmann said H.R. 888 is a common sense, fail-safe solution to help grieving survivors during their greatest time of need, and also ensures retroactive DIC benefits are not lost.
Click here to read Lohmann’s full written statement.
Watch the live stream from the hearing here.