Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Today, we have a full schedule that includes eight bills before us that address some of the unique needs of our nation's veterans' population. The bills pertain to a variety of issues ranging from military sexual assault and recognizing Guard and Reserve members to increasing compensation and improving the appeals process.
I support several of these provisions, and I am proud to have worked with the chairman to introduce the disability compensation COLA bills, H.R. 569 and H.R. 570.
H.R. 602, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, sponsored by Full Committee Chairman Miller would require that a judicial authority adjudicate a veteran or other beneficiary in need of fiduciary assistance as mentally defective for the purposes of reporting to the Department of Justice National Instant Background Check System, instead of the current system which requires VA to report these individuals to NICS.
The next bill on today's agenda, H.R. 671, Ruth Moore Act of 2013, was introduced by Ms. Pingree of Maine, and I am pleased to see it included here today. Many veterans who are victims of military sexual trauma (MST) express frustration with attempting to file disability claims for post traumatic stress; particularly in trying to prove to that the assault ever happened. In July 2010, the VA relaxed its evidentiary standards for PTSD, which also includes MST. However, there are still disparities in compensation and confusion within VBA on when service-connection compensation for MST is warranted. H.R. 671 seeks to ensure that more is done to eliminate these hurdles.
H.R. 679, the Honor America's Guard-Reserve Retirees Act, sponsored by Mr. Walz of Minnesota, a Member of the Full Committee, would grant honorary veteran status to retired members of the Guard and Reserve who completed 20 years of service. I support this bill but understand the reservations concerning moving the envelope on what type of service accords veteran status, as outlined in VA testimony and in that of some of the VSOs.
Your other bill, Mr. Chairman, H.R. 733, the Access to Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act, would grant county veteran service officers, other State and local employees as well as staff of Members of Congress with greater access to veterans' claims information for tracking purposes. I understand and appreciate the need for county VSO's to have better access to claims for which they may have the Power of Attorney for the veteran.
Next, H.R. 894, introduced by Mr. Johnson of Ohio, also a Member of the Full Committee, seeks to reform VA's fiduciary program.
And finally, my bill, H.R. 1405, would target the appeals process. This measure would require that a VA Appeals form is included with a Notice of Decision letter, instead of waiting for a veteran to exercise his or her appeal rights before sending the form to the veteran. I believe this is a simple courtesy VA could extend to our nation's veterans.
I thank all of the Members for their thoughtful legislation. And, I thank all of our esteemed witnesses for joining us today and look forward to receiving their testimonies.
Thank you and I yield back.