Some brighter news for retired vets with disabilities
In 1980, after a twenty-one-year Navy career, at my discharge physical it was found that I had significant tinnitus in both ears—only one ear counted—and a few other maladies that earned me a 20 percent disability rating. Again, only one ear counts – more on that and its ramifications later. I accepted that rating and have been receiving my stipend from the VA for several years now.
Over the past few years I’ve noticed that my hearing has been getting worse and it has reached the point where it is affecting relationships with family and friends. After visiting the open house event for the new VA Clinic at Kaniksu Health Services in Sandpoint, I opted to make an appointment to get a new audiology test and may be eligible for some kind of assistance with this growing problem. I called the clinic and they gave me an appointment for early August; pretty quick service in my mind.
At 8:30 am on the morning of August 8 I presented myself at the clinic and was given a physical that covered everything I had just had done in mid-April—except for the blood work which had done with my April physical. The nurses were quick and efficient and the PA that did most of the questioning and answer recording was very thorough. He even did a ‘lavage’ of both ears to clear any accumulated ear wax and that may even have helped my hearing a little. Thanks, Mike.
An appointment for an audiology exam was requested—they have to do those in Spokane at the VA Medical Center. The next day I received a call with an appointment date and time for my hearing test. That date is in early September and I was much impressed with the rapidity of the response. I believe the date was chosen to accommodate my vacation time—as I write this I’m south of Dusseldorf on the Rhine River, though I will have returned to Sandpoint by the time you are reading this.
All in all, I am much impressed with the services offered and the efficiency of the operation at our new service clinic.
Now, as promised, a little bit about a sore subject with many retired service people: concurrent compensation and its effect on our retirement checks. It is almost a given that if you serve in the military for the required 20 years needed to collect a retirement check you will suffer some level of disability. If you are awarded a rating of 20 percent or more, you will receive a check from the VA. But there is a catch: whatever amount the VA sends you will be deducted from your retirement check dollar for dollar. So, if you were supposed to receive $1,000 for your service —Army, Air Force, and Navy et al—you would receive $800 from them and $200 from the VA. That deduction—or reduction if you will—has never seemed fair to me. Why am I getting less money after being disabled in service to my country?
The why and how of this can be answered in post-Civil War American history. After “the recent unpleasantness with the North,” to quote one of my history teachers in Florida, the U.S. Congress was reconstituted with representatives from both the Union and the states that made up the Confederacy that had been in rebellion to the Union. In the 1870s and 1880s the emotional and physical wounds from this conflict were still very deep and still quite painful. When a Senator from a former Union state proposed paying a stipend to veterans of the Union army who had become disabled in their service to their country, a former Confederate General—now a Senator—added an amendment to the bill to mandate that whatever stipend was granted to those disabled veterans would be deducted from whatever retirement pay that veteran received. This was done strictly out of spite because the retired Confederate veterans were denied any retirement pay whatsoever for their service.
So a law that was enacted well over a hundred years ago out of spite still affects many retired servicemen and women by reducing their retirement check by an amount identical to the amount received from the VA. Granted, the VA stipend is tax free while retired pay is subject to income taxes at both the state and federal level. This is changing, which means that military retirees with 20 or more years of service and a 50 percent (or higher) VA rated disability no longer have their military retirement pay reduced by the amount of their VA disability compensation. By 2014 all veterans rated 40 percent or more will not have their retirement check reduced.
That still leaves a lot of us who have our retirement pay reduced: all of those rated less than 40 percent disabled and are receiving a monthly stipend from the VA. We will continue to lose that few bucks a months from our retirement checks. Is this a win or a loss? I don’t know. I haven’t checked the numbers to see whether or not I’m paying more in taxes than I’m receiving from the VA. It was supposed to be a ‘wash’ from that perspective and I’ve never checked it out. At least those who have given the most for their country are finally getting something back.
Next month I’ll be devoting much of my space to a letter that was written to all veterans by General David Petraeus. The General retired a while back and is now serving as the head of the CIA. This letter is worth a read by all who served and should be required reading for all those who never have.
With Congress on their Summer Recess—read campaign mode—at least they haven’t done any additional harm to the veterans or the rest of the nation during the month of August. Congress should be required to function under the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” As the campaign season heats up on the way to November I’m sure that the gaffs, faux pas, lies, obfuscations and half-truths will continue to fly from both camps. Until next month – take care and stay safe.