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Committee Report

BY JOHN L. MARGOWSKI, CHAIR

VB-1 Judicial Review deals with the issue of veterans not being able to gain access to legal counsel at any point in their claims. Current law allows veterans to seek attorney representa-tion upon appeal of their claims, and if they later dismiss an attorney, the fee agreement stays in place.

VVA continues to seek sponsors to introduce legislation to correct this inequity and to seek legislation to allow a veteran who terminates his or her attorney to remove the fee agreement on record with the VA.

VB-3 Less-Than-Honorable Discharges seeks to have the Department of Defense and the VA conduct meaningful outreach to inform veterans about the appeal right for less-than-honorable discharges. We are asking the Secretary of each service to direct Discharge Review Boards to be compassionate and use the benefit of the doubt in favor of upgrading discharges. Some guides for filing for a discharge upgrade can be found at www.countyofkings.com/veterans_ services/documents/Self-HelpGuidetoDischargeUp-Grade.pdf or www.afjag.af.mil/questions/jaja/upgradingdischarge.asp or www.dd214.us/reference/DischargeUpgrade_Memo.pdf

We are seeking the repeal of Public Law 99-126 regarding the Carter administration's special discharge upgrade program. This law bars VA benefits for those discharged for being AWOL for 180 days, even if the discharge was upgraded. VVA will also work to have the Other-Than-Fully-Honorable Discharge replaced with a Certificate of Service.

VB-5 Civil Liberties of Active Duty Military Service: VVA affirms and will intervene in appropriate cases, or provide representation, to ensure that the civil liberties of Vietnam veterans and all U.S. military veterans are fully protected. VVA has participated in four amicus briefs in conjunction with other VSOs with regard to civil liberties issues. Three were successful.

VB-6 Just Compensation for Injuries Sustained by Active-Duty Military Personnel: VVA is seeking sponsors for legislation or other action to secure a more equitable compensation system for personnel injured on active duty due to negligence of government personnel.

VB-7 Class Actions at U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims: VVA and the Paralyzed Veterans of America petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to adopt a class-action rule. That petition was rejected. VVA will seek legislation to allow class-action lawsuits or another similar rule applicable to cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

VB-10 Veterans Benefits & Services: This resolution deals with VBA providing timely benefits and services to veterans. VVA's Legislative Agenda includes efforts to work with the Veterans Benefits Administration to revamp the compensation and pension system. We strongly encourage Congress to provide hardhitting oversight to force the VA to change drastically how it does business.

VB-11 Veterans Benefits System: This deals with the Veterans Benefits Administration's ability to deliver timely and quality service to America's sick and disabled veterans and their families. VVA's Legislative Agenda for 2014 asks Congress to provide oversight of the VA processes with regard to compensation and pension and holding the VA accountable in the management of the Veterans Healthcare System.

VB-12 Department of Veterans Affairs Service-Connected Disability Compensation Payments and Military Retirement Pay Offset: Under current law, H.R.1588, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004, concurrent receipt of VA Benefits and Military Retired Pay has been enacted. However, the implementation of this law stopped at those veteran retirees rated at 50 percent disabled by the VA.

VVA, along with other VSOs, will continue to petition Congress to force compliance with the law. S.234 has been introduced to end the disability offset for all disabled veterans. The companion bill in the House is H.R.333.

VB-13 Preservation of VVA Service Representation at the National Level: This resolution deals with the first priority of VVA as a veterans service organization. VVA continues to provide funding, based on available resources, for our service officers. Online training is available to maintain the highest quality of representation by our accredited service officers. The board receives timely reports from the veterans benefits director and the Veterans Benefits Committee chair on the needs and accomplishments of our accredited service officers.

VB-16 Copy of Military Records upon Discharge: This deals with photocopies of medical records and personnel files being given to service members upon discharge. While it varies from service branch to service branch, the use of electronic records upon discharge is becoming the norm.

VB-18 The Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Program: VVA continues to endorse and encourage participation in the VAVS program throughout all levels of our organization.

VB-19 Veterans Environmental Health Effects: VVA's Legislative Agenda for 2014 addresses the legacy of toxic exposures as one of our top priorities. Senate Bill 1602 has been introduced, and VVA encourages its members to contact their federal legislators to support this bill. VVA is actively seeking sponsors for a companion bill in the House.

VB-20 Participation in the Process of Accrediting VA Medical Centers: This issue may require legislation or an Executive Order to force VA hospitals to comply.

VB-27 Reduction of DIC Survivor Waiting Period: VVA seeks legislation to reduce the waiting period for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from ten years to one. Given the current congressional effort to cut or reduce veterans and military retiree benefits, this will be an uphill battle.

VB-28 Removal of 5 Percent Annual Deductible for VA Pension Eligibility: Under current law the first 5 percent of an individual pensioner's paid, un-reimbursed medical expenses does not count. These expenses are considered normal and usual. VVA is seeking legislation to change the pension rule to count all of an individual's paid, un-reimbursed medical expenses as a deductible expense to reduce income for pension purposes.


Committee Report 4/20/2013

The committee was called to order on 4/19/2013 at 7:00 P.M. Roll call was taken, we had a quorum.

We received a presentation from Dr. Berger regarding SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network) and their petition with regard to the VA and Service Connection for Mental Health Disabilities resulting from Military Sexual Trauma. After Dr. Berger’s presentation, the committee in favor of VVA joining the petition process.

We received the Benefits Director’s report, which the VVA Board of Directors had also received. During that report, Director Vale explained that due to staffing levels and the workload at the Appeals Management Center at the DC Regional Office, he had strong concerns about VVA being able to continue to handle the remands cases on a timely basis while also handling initial/reopened claims from walk-in clients from the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas, as well as providing outreach. These claims then go to an RO at which VVA has no presence. After discussion it was moved and seconded that VVA discontinue the claims processing and outreach for Maryland and Virginia. The motion passed without objection. Veterans would still be able to receive claims assistance at the Regional Office from other VSOs.  VVA would continue having two Service

Officers and an administrative staff person focus on working VVA’s remand cases.
We covered discussions on VetPro utilization as well as the staff of VetPro working through the minor bugs that have been discovered. Director Vale also continues to work with the VA on implementation at the Regional Offices.

The meeting was recessed until the scheduled committee meeting on Friday.

On the 19th, the committee re-convened, with a quorum, at our scheduled time.

A new motion was made regarding the workload for the VVA service officers at the Appeals Management Center, to include the elimination of claims processing and outreach for the DC walk-in clients. After a brief discussion, this motion passed without objection.

We received a copy of the VA News Release and the VA Fast Letter, discussing the implementation of a VA plan to eliminate the claims backlog. After discussion, it was decided that we ensure that VVA Service Officers are provided this information to enable them to assist the veterans they represent whose claim may be involved in this process.

Lastly, we have just received the VVA grant applications and the six- month reports from the grant applicants/recipients. 

The Benefits Committee sub-committee for the reviewing and processing of the grant requests, consists of myself, Felix Peterson, Joe Kristek. I added have added Herb Worthington. None of us are from a state council/chapter receiving any grant proceeds.

We will be reviewing the applications, and will make the grant funding determinations within the next two weeks. I will then forward our recommendations to President Rowan and ask that these be sent to the Board for an E-Vote. This will enable the grant recipients to do budget planning for the next grant period.

I would like to thank all committee members for their hard work.

This concludes my report.

Respectfully submitted,
John L. Margowski,
Chair, VVA National  Veterans Benefits Committee


Veterans Benefits Committee Chairman's Report 10/10/12

The Veterans Benefits Committee met on both October 4th and 5th 2012.

On Thursday we had a guest speaker Mr. Thomas J. Murphy, Director of VA
Compensation Service. He provide updated information on the VA's progress in going paperless, electronic claims and how they are processed. He also listened to and answered questions that the committee members had. The VA should be totally paperless in the claims process including the processing of all new claims. I was very impressed with the overall plan and also how veterans service officers will be able to follow their veteran's claim through the entire process.

We received the Directors report, which was also presented tot he Board by Mr. Vale. The first draft of the re-write of the Veterans Benefits Manual was reviewed, suggestionsand changes made and it will be back on the agenda for January.
We dealt with a service officer suspension/revocation.

We had a lengthy discussion on our Grant, suggestions for improving the process and discussion on changing the way grant applications are received, how and what criteria will be used to assess the applications and the processing of them for grant approval.

We will change the grant application dates to coincide with the VSF fiscal year to make the process smoother. The new deadline for the submission of applications for the VVA Veterans Benefits Grant will be March 1.

Our review of the Veterans Benefits Resolutions will be done at our January meeting.

Respectfully submitted,
John L. Margowski, Chair, Veterans Benefits Committee.


Veterans Benefits Committee Report on Convention Resolutions

The Veterans Benefits Committee, as required by Convention resolution, offers the following report on Veterans Benefits resolutions and pending federal legislation regarding enhancements and/or improvements to the many benefits that VVA’s resolutions cover. We recommended the following legislation be included in the Government Affairs Committee’s list of legislation for which it will seek successful resolution.

HR 178 Calls for an amendment to Title 10, United States Code, thereby repealing the current requirement for reduction of survivor annuities under the Survivor Benefit Plan for military surviving spouses to offset the receipt of the veterans’ dependency and indemnity compensation.

HR 303 Calls for an amendment to Title 10, United States Code, to permit additional retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-related Special Compensation. The bill also calls for the elimination of the phase-in period under current law with respect to such concurrent receipt.

Both of the following bills are related to VB-12 DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS (DVA) SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITY COMPENSATION PAYMENTS & MILITARY RETIRED PAY OFFSET as it applies to veterans and their survivors.

HR 1484, the Veterans Appeals Improvement Act of 2011, deals with improving the appeals process of the Department of Veterans Affairs and establishing a commission to study judicial review of the determination of veteran’s benefits. This bill contains language applicable to VB-7 Class Actions AT U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS and VB-9 DVA IMPLIMINTATION OF U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS DECISIONS.

There are other pieces of legislation which have been referred to the Government Affairs Committee by the Veterans Benefits Committee, which that directly affect our members and their survivors.

With regard to VB-13 PRESERVATION OF VVA SERVICE REPRESENTATION AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL, attorneys have been added to the VVA national staff. The Veterans Benefits Committee is seeking more funds for the Veterans Benefits programs operated by VVA through our chapters and state councils. There has been an increase in the number of grants requests for financial support through our Veterans Benefits Grant program.

--Respectfully submitted by John Margowski, Chair, Veterans Benefits Committee.

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