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Concurrent disability and retirement

Here it is the end of February and while you in The River Journal area of circulation are getting another dump of snow and below zero temps, I’m sitting here in my swim trunks and basking in the sun—God, I love being retired!

I was going to give you an up-to-the-minute update on the House bills I mentioned last month but it seems our dedicated and conscientious elected Representatives have taken the last full week of February off—for President’s DAY! They adjourned on Thursday the 17th and will reconvene on Monday the 29th. If they don’t pass a continuing resolution ASAP, technically the government is broke until the new fiscal budget gets passed and it should shut down. But apparently that doesn’t get in the way of vacation time for our national leaders. So much for the cost effective governance we were promised in November.

As Bob Schiffer of CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ commented last Sunday, “We would save a great deal of money if we only paid our legislators for the days when they were actually working for the American People.“ That does sound like a reasonable suggestion to me.

But I digress. In reference to HR 333 and HR 238, both bills have been referred to committees. One went to Ways and Means the other to Veterans Affairs. It is here—in committee—when it is generally determined whether a bill lives or dies. Most bills never come out of committee. If a bill does come out of committee it seldom, if ever, looks the same as it did when submitted. It has been said by people far wiser than I that “A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee.” 

It is in committee where the pet projects get inserted. It is in committee where the pork gets introduced. If there is any way that a special interest can be served by the bill under consideration, this is where it happens. The two bills mentioned above would help thousands of veterans if they come out of committee as they went in. The odds of this happening are two—slim and none—cynical bastard that I am. If these bills do come out of committee anywhere close to what they were when they went in it would be because many of the committee members heard from their constituents in support of those bills as they were presented. As an item of interest, neither of Idaho’s Representatives sit on Ways and Means or Veterans Affairs.

I would encourage all veterans who are members of the various veterans’ service organizations to learn where their organization stands on these bills—and all other veteran-related bills—and contact their state department representatives so they can tell the national representatives what they are hearing from their local membership. We are a very large fraternity and if we stick together we might get something done to help all of us. 

I am especially happy to report that the American Legion is currently active in getting the word out about HR 333 and the number of sponsors in the House is currently in the 90s. The greater the number of sponsors the greater the odds of a bill coming out of committee, To refresh your memories, HR 333 deals with concurrent compensation for those with a less than 50 percent disability rating from the VA. [The President has moved to eliminate the Concurrent Compensation penalty for those veterans with more than 50 percent ratings by 2014.] 

Concurrent Compensation penalizes those retirees who are receiving VA disability checks. How, you ask? Simple: they deduct whatever you are receiving from the VA from your military retirement check. For example, If a retiree has served 20 years, they are supposed to receive 50 percent of their last monthly salary. If at discharge they are found to be 15 percent disabled—tinnitus/chronic back pain/arthritic joints, whatever—they will receive a monthly stipend from the VA. That stipend is deducted from their military retirement check every month. So, they are being compensated for this disability which occurred while they were serving but in reality they are getting nothing extra for that disability. The Government giveth and the Government taketh away. 

I had to do some real digging to find the source and rationale for this accounting trick. It turns out that this was initiated by Congress before there even was a DoD or a DoVA. It seems that in 1891—one hundred and twenty years ago—Congress had a great many Civil War veterans. Within its halls were veterans who had served both the Union and the Confederacy. When the war ended disabled Union soldiers were given disability payments; Confederate soldiers were told to go home with nothing. 

Needless to say there was some animosity stemming from this inequity. When Senator Benjamin Harrison became President (a former Union Brigadier General) he tried to get a law passed that gave disability payments to Union officers while they were still serving on active duty. He was outmaneuvered by Senator Francis Marion Cockrell (a former Confederate Brigadier General*) who got the law amended so that the disability payments could only be paid to retirees. Senator Cockrell made his case by pushing his amendment as a ‘cost saving’ measure. Thus we have the origins of a series of laws that penalized all future retirees to satisfy a grudge stemming from the Civil War.

By my rough estimate I figure that this ‘cost saving’ measure has cost me personally about $45,000 over the past 30 years and I’m only rated at 10 percent. Think about those who are rated in the 20 percent or higher disability ratings. This inequity is illegal under current non-discrimination laws but Congress has been very slow to rectify this situation. I, for one, think that it is high time this discriminatory practice was ended. Why don’t we let our Representatives know that we are watching them on this?

Until next month I hope that you all stay warm and dry. Take care.

 *   Being outmaneuvered by a Confederate General was nothing new. The reason the South lost the war had nothing to do with tactics or strategy but we’ll save that discussion for another day.

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

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retirement, disability, concurrent disability, military retirement, military

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