Larson Opening Statement at Social Security Subcommittee Hearing on Ensuring Social Security Serves America’s Veterans
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Chairman Johnson, for holding this hearing.
Americans know that Social Security is an insurance plan – not an entitlement. They have earned these benefits with every paycheck and know they can count on them. This is as true of veterans as for all other American workers. In fact, more veterans receive benefits from Social Security than receive Veterans disability or pension benefits.
We must fight back against calls to make cuts to Social Security and, instead, come together in a bipartisan way to make common sense adjustments to strengthen America’s insurance plan and protect the benefits Americans’ have earned and rely on.
Both the Chairman and I have offered comprehensive plans to address the long-term shortfall in the Social Security system, so that Americans can continue to count on these benefits whether they become disabled, or retire, or if they should die prematurely leaving their young children behind. While differing in our approaches, I hope we will be able to have a hearing out in Texas or elsewhere in the country to discuss our different approaches to Social Security right there with the American public.
But today’s hearing is focused on veterans and how Social Security serves them.
The Social Security Administration has taken many steps in recent years to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits they have earned. They conduct extensive outreach to veterans at hospitals and other facilities, to ensure that wounded warriors know about the benefits they have earned from Social Security. They flag all disability applications from wounded service members for expedited processing.
Also, the Social Security Administration has worked out agreements with the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive electronic medical evidence, to help speed evaluation of veterans’ applications. On average, disabled workers can wait over 600 days for a decision on an appeal, but disabled veterans get a hearing decision in less than half that time – about 8-10 months.
However, veterans are not immune from the consequences of continued inadequate funding provided to SSA to operate the Social Security system. Since 2010, the number of beneficiaries has grown by nearly 15 percent as the baby boomers reach retirement age, but Social Security’s operating budget has fallen by 11 percent, after accounting for inflation. This has made it difficult, even impossible, for Social Security to serve our constituents promptly, when they need help the most.
Veterans report difficulty reaching SSA on its 800-number when they have a question or a problem. If they try to visit a field office in person, the wait for service can be several hours. And even though they are moved to the head of the line if they need a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, their benefits can be held up waiting for the decision to be written or the SSA payment center to get their checks started.
We need to do better by our veterans, and by all Americans, so they can receive the benefits they deserve and that they have earned.