ARMED FORCES NEWS
REALITY TIME FOR CONCURRENT RECEIPT
September 5, 2003

 

The returning Congress is facing numerous veterans' organizations that are insisting on concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation. An official of the Military Officers Association of America says that last year's action on concurrent receipt left out thousands of deserving disabled retirees and omitted Guard and Reserve retirees, including those with severe combat wounds. Even more thousands of retirees whose disabilities were caused by performance of military duties other than in combat were also ignored. At issue, asserts MOAA: (1) Sen. Harry Reid's provision in the Senate defense bill for full concurrent receipt; (2) Rep. Mike Bilirakis' bill HR-303, with 354 cosponsors, for full concurrent receipt; and (3) mounting pressure for Republican lawmakers to join 202 other legislators by signing Rep. Jim Marshall's discharge petition to move that bill to the House floor for a vote. 

Update: What is Concurrent Receipt? Military retirees who have been awarded compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs for disabilities must forfeit $1 of retired pay for every dollar of disability compensation they accept. Some equity is expected from the new Combat Related Special Compensation, but, according to a letter written by retired Army Lt. Gen. Billy M. Thomas to the President, CRSC covers less than five percent of disabled military retirees and then only if they apply and their application is approved by DoD. The remainder will still be required to pay what is being called the "disabled military retirees 100 percent tax."

 

NEWS RELEASE
September 10, 2003
Congress Declares War Against Disabled Veterans


WASHINGTON, Sept. 10—The House majority leadership has shown callous contempt for the sacrifices of America’s defenders by attempting to impose overly restrictive conditions that would limit benefits for disabilities from military service, said the Disabled American Veterans.

At issue is a proposed modification to the 2004 Defense authorization bill that would deny disability compensation and priority for health care to Americans who become disabled while serving their country if their disabilities are not directly related to performance of their official duties. Known as a "direct performance of duty" standard, this provision would overturn current law which authorizes service connection for disabilities incurred in the line of duty during service in the United States Armed Forces. 

"Disability incurred in the line of duty is sometimes not directly due to a job injury, but may be due to less obvious factors attributable to the military environment," said DAV National Commander Alan W. Bowers. "Proof of a causal relationship may often be difficult or impossible to establish. Current law equitably relieves disabled veterans from the onerous burden of establishing performance of duty or other causal connection as a prerequisite for service connection."

An untold number of men and women will return from Iraq and the war on terror with disabilities. The military and veterans organizations worry that many of them will not be able to directly identify or prove the origin of their ailments, but that certainly does not mean they should be ignored. "Any suggestion to the contrary is outrageous and shameful," Commander Bowers said.

The nation's veterans and military service organizations are adamantly opposed to any change that would redefine service-connected disability or restrict the circumstances under which service-connection may be established. "We are shocked and appalled that any member of Congress or the Administration would suggest that such a draconian measure," said Commander Bowers.

"Our nation is engaged in a war with a hostile enemy that would willingly kill innocent civilians. Yet it seems that some members of our government would shortchange those who protect us," said the DAV’s National Commander. "Disabled veterans should not have to fight their own government for the benefits they earned. In a callous effort to limit government's obligations to our former, current and future defenders, authors of the provision in the Defense authorization bill took it upon themselves to rewrite the law regarding benefits for disabled veterans, bypassing the relevant congressional committee and without holding public hearings on the matter."

 

MY SAN ANTONIO
Military 
BILL WOULD GIVE MEDICAL HELP TO VETS 
EXPOSED TO CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL TESTS

By Cindy Tumiel 
San Antonio Express-News 

September 11, 2003
GIs, public not told of germ tests 

Web Posted : 09/11/2003 12:00 AM 

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and passed Wednesday by the House would allow veterans exposed to chemical and biological weapons testing during the 1960s and '70s to receive tests and care at Veterans Administration health care facilities. 
The measure is aimed at 5,000 or more veterans who were part of Project 112 or Project Shad, Cold War-era tests that studied combat uses for biological and chemical weapons and methods to protect American troops from such attacks. 

Most of the tests were conducted at sea, but some were land-based. 

The Defense Department admitted in June that some of the tests used real biological or chemical weapons. 

Rodriguez said the Veterans Affairs Department asked for the legislation so it can test affected troops and treat any illnesses they develop as a result of the tests. 

"This is the least we can do for these fine men and women who were often involved in these experiments without consent and without adequate protection," the San Antonio Democrat said in a prepared release.

Tests were done between 1962 and 1973. Military personnel will need to show they were involved in the tests or served on the ships involved in the testing.

The affected veterans also can find help through the National Association of Atomic Veterans, said William Harper, national commander of the group whose members were exposed to radiation experiments and other testing while in the armed forces. 

Harper said the group is trying to find Project 112 and Project Shad veterans and inform them on how to file claims with the VA.

The government made it difficult for World War II-era atomic vets to prove their exposure and get care, Harper said, and he expects the newest group to encounter the same obstacles. 

"It's been the same problem all along," Harper said. "They (VA officials) always want to do some study." 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ctumiel@express-news.net 
 

DAILY BRIEFING
September 12, 2003 

Senators concerned about VA's plans for closings, restructuring
From CongressDaily 
 

Senators expressed concern Thursday that a major overhaul of the Veterans Affairs Department health care system would deprive some veterans of access to treatment, the Associated Press reported.

"There's a great deal of skepticism in the veterans' community,'' said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at a hearing.

But Robert Roswell, the Veterans Affairs undersecretary for health, sought to assure the panel that proposals to close, consolidate or otherwise change the mission of the department's health facilities would not disrupt the treatment of veterans. "All care provided to veterans will continue throughout this process," Roswell said. 

The overhaul, initiated by Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, aims at adjusting the department's health care system to help veterans who are older and tend to live in Sunbelt states and to use medical procedures that allow more patients to be treated on an outpatient rather than inpatient basis. 

The Veterans Affairs Department treated about 4 million patients last year at its 181 major healthcare delivery locations. Under a draft plan for a 20-year transformation of those facilities, about seven hospitals would close, new hospitals would open in Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., and other facilities would reduce or add medical missions.
 

MY SAN ANTONIO
Military 
CONCURRENT RECEIPT DEAL 
TIED TO DISABILITY PAY 'REFORM'

by Tom Philpott 
9/12/2003  

News
MILITARY UPDATE:
Concurrent Receipt Deal Tied to Disability Pay 'Reform' 

Senator John Warner (R.-Va.) 

Major veterans' organizations expressed outrage at House Republican leaders for a proposal floated Sept. 5 that would restore full retired pay for 710,000 retirees drawing VA disability pay, in return for dramatically narrowing disability compensation eligibility for future veterans. Military associations with a higher proportion of retiree members, who stand to gain by lifting the ban on "concurrent receipt" of full retired pay and VA disability pay, took a more cautious approach to the proposal. At least the Bush administration, they suggested, appears willing to strike a deal on an issue it threatened last year to kill with a presidential veto.

Perhaps a more deliberate approach to reforming the VA disability system, like setting up a commission to study the issue, could end the stalemate over what retirees now prefer to call the Veterans Disability Tax.

Whatever the House decides, a new concurrent receipt initiative still could be killed in negotiations with the Senate. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, negotiated the Combat-Related Special Compensation program last year, calling it a "beachhead" in the battle for full concurrent receipt.

Warner wants to let the CRSC program run at least a year -- it began in June -- before considering whether more needs to be done. But after Labor Day, the action on this issue was in the House.

Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.), long-time sponsor of legislation to allow concurrent receipt, briefed the compromise proposal to service organizations. Sources said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), majority whip, drafted the deal with the White House's Office of Management and Budget. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), House Armed Services Committee chairman, are said to support it.

Current law requires an offset in military retired pay equal to the amount a retiree draws in tax-free disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for service-related injuries or illness. Critics of the VA disability system say what needs reform is a legal presumption that any injury or illness that occurs on active duty is service connected, even if caused by a hereditary condition or an off-duty mishap. 

Under the draft proposal, full concurrent receipt would be phased in over five years. In the first year, 2004, all retirees with 20 or more years of service would see some retired pay restored: $20 a month for retirees rated 10 percent disabled and up to $750 a month for 100 percent disabled. The formula becomes more complicated beyond that, but retired pay would be fully restored by Oct. 1, 2008.

The cost of phasing in concurrent receipt would be covered by savings expected from tightening disability rules for future veterans, including persons now serving on active duty. Only disabilities tied to "performance of duty" would qualify for compensation. Disability ratings set at retirement could not be raised as the retiree aged.

The changes would slash VA disability pay to future veterans by two thirds, according to one government estimate. Veterans' groups are angry. Some also must be concerned about the possible long-term impact on membership rolls if the pool of potential new members falls sharply.

Disabled American Veterans announced the proposal with a website headline, "Congress Declares War Against Disabled Veterans." DAV called it "the most brazen attack on veterans' benefits in recent history."

Veterans of Foreign Wars described the proposal as "a blatant attempt to unfairly pit one group of veterans against another by forcing one group to pay for another's disabilities."

The American Legion promised its members it would not support "paying for repeal of the [veterans disability] tax by tinkering with the disability-compensation process."

But the Fleet Reserve Association, the largest enlisted organization for the sea services, struck a more conciliatory tone. Joe Barnes, FRA's national executive secretary, called the proposal a positive development overall. Yet he cautioned that changes in VA disability rules should be "thoroughly evaluated" by the veterans committees with consideration of comments from the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans' organizations.

Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), sponsor of a discharge petition to try to force House colleagues to vote for the Bilirakis bill to end the retired pay offset, labeled the Republican proposal "outrageous." 

"There is no way in hell anybody who cares about our troops and veterans can justify trying to link doing right on the veterans disability tax with doing wrong by current men and women on active duty," Marshall said. "The proposal is simply a pay cut and nothing more."

Marshall's discharge petition has 202 signatures, all but one a Democrat. Sixteen more Republicans need to sign it to force a floor vote. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) has vowed to do so, and believes other Republicans will join him, if House leaders don't come up with an acceptable concurrent receipt compromise. 

Jones said he isn't happy with the current effort. Removing an unfair tax on disabled retirees shouldn't be tied to VA disability system reform.

"I've told leadership [that] if this is what the option is, I'm going to sign the discharge petition," said Jones. "In fairness, they are trying very hard to work out a resolution. But there will come a deadline."

Jones said he doesn't like to go against his party leaders but in this case the stronger commitment is to military retirees in his district.

Want to comment on this article? Send Tom an e-mail at milupdate@aol.com. Want to see reader responses to previous Military Update columns? Click here to go to the latest Military Forum. 

Syndicated columnist TOM PHILPOTThas covered military affairs for more than 25 years, including six as senior editor of Navy Times. He writes free-lance magazine articles, primarily on defense issues. His work has appeared in Washingtonian, Reader's Digest, and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazines. His book, Glory Denied, is now available in paperback. To send feedback on MILITARY UPDATE columns, e-mail Tom at milupdate@aol.com. 
 

ASSOCIATED PRESS ~ JIM ABRAMS
GOP JOINS DEMS, VETS AGAINST BENEFIT CUTS
September 17, 2003
 

WASHINGTON - Senior Republicans on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee have joined Democrats and veterans groups in a chorus of protest against proposals being considered by the Bush administration to shrink the number of military personnel who qualify for disability benefits.

Changes in the definition of service-connected disability "could have far-reaching and unintended consequences for millions of servicemembers and veterans," wrote the committee chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and three of the panel's subcommittee chairmen.

The Senate's top Democrats, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Whip Harry Reid of Nevada, also weighed in on the issue Friday, telling President Bush in a letter that it was "outrageous to pit one group of disabled veterans against another."

Daschle said the proposals, if retroactive, could disqualify about 1.5 million veterans, about two-thirds of those now in the VA disability program.

The proposals, which have not gone beyond the preliminary discussion stage. They were part of a response to what veterans regard as a century-old injustice without adding another major chunk to a federal deficit, already at record levels because of the war on terror, operations in Iraq and tax cuts every year since Bush took office.

Under current law, disabled veterans eligible for military retirement pay have their retirement reduced by the amount they receive in disability payments. Veterans groups argue that civilian federal employees on disability get full retirement benefits, and lawmakers for years have tried to extend that right to veterans.

The problem is cost: estimates are that full "concurrent receipt" of both benefits would cost $58 billion over 10 years.

This year the Senate, in its version of a $400 billion defense spending bill for next year, included full restitution of benefits. The House bill did not contain the provision, and the issue has become a major sticking point in reaching a compromise on the crucial defense bill.

The White House and House GOP leaders have floated less costly compromise proposals that would phase in the increase of benefits over four or five years and narrow the definition of service-connected disabilities.

Democrats circulated on Friday a two-page draft, described as a White House document, that define qualified disabilities as those injuries and illnesses "directly resulting from the performance of official military duties."

Actions unrelated to official government business, including travel between home and duty station, would not qualify.

Smith and the other Veterans' Committee Republicans cited estimates that 50 percent to 90 percent would not qualify if the standards were applied to current disability claims. They added that future payments to widows could also be jeopardized.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois, top Democrat on Smith's committee, said they would oppose any attempt to restrict disability criteria to pay for repealing what they called the disabled veterans' tax.

Currently, service-connected disability payments are made to about 2.4 million veterans, at an annual cost of about $17.6 billion. Payments also are made to some 315,000 surviving spouses and children of disability-qualified veterans.

Veterans groups are adamantly opposed to the changes. The American Legion promised in a statement to "stop dead in their tracks any fiscal compromises that would make it harder for veterans to receive just compensation."

"If this is the only compromise that is thrown out there, then I think it will kill the issue," Legion Commander John A. Brieden said in an interview.

Five other service organizations, including Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America, put out a statement saying that the "House majority leadership has shown callous contempt for the sacrifices of America's defenders by attempting to impose overly restrictive conditions that would limit benefits for disabilities."

Republican aides stressed that no final decision has been reached on benefits, and the drive to link benefits and a smaller eligibility pool may be abandoned. Among ideas being discussed, they said, were extending both retirement and disability pay to a smaller group of more seriously disabled veterans.


ARMED FORCES NEWS
SENATOR REGISTERS CONCERN ABOUT 'CARES'
September 19,2003

 

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., says he is "unconvinced" that the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services initiative is on the right track to providing the highest quality care in a timely fashion at VA medical facilities. No one would disagree, he said, that the VA system deserves ongoing oversight and scrutiny. Yet, the current effort seems to be moving hastily and without sufficient thought, he charged. He is concerned that, in the end, CARES will be known for cost cutting rather than enhancements. The draft CARES plan targets 11 hospitals for possible closure and 31 hospitals for major mission changes. Some 6,000 beds are on the chopping block, including a minimum of 1,847 long-term care beds, 1,485 domiciliary beds and 778 psychiatric beds. VA insists that these beds will be replaced, but Graham said officials have no details on where or when.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
DISABLED VETERANS' TAX TRADEOFF PROPOSED
September 19,2003

 

Recent legislation created "Combat Related Special Compensation" to reimburse certain disabled military retirees for retired pay they forfeit when drawing VA disability compensation. However, under CRSC, less than five percent of today's disabled military retirees will benefit, according to a letter to the President signed by hundreds of retired flag rank and general officers. Coming on the heels of CRSC, a new plan is being worked out between administration officials and House Republican leaders that would exclude many of tomorrow's disabled retirees. Under one scenario, full concurrent receipt of retired pay and disability compensation would be phased in over a five-year period, according to sources. However, to pay for it, future disability compensation or any increase in current disabilities would go only to those whose disability is linked directly to service. This could cut the number of new claims by 40 percent and prevent increases of disability awards to those whose health deteriorates. 

Veterans Groups Denounce Veterans' Tax Tradeoff 
A plan to revise the VA disability system in order to pay for full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability pay has drawn heavy fire. For example, the Veterans of Foreign Wars called it a blatant attempt to force one group of veterans to pay for another's disabilities. The American Legion asserted it would not support the tradeoff proposal. The Disabled American Veterans Web site simply proclaimed: "Congress Declares War Against Disabled Veterans." The Military Officers Association of America said that any proposal to change the VA system must be given due legislative process rather than trying to slip major changes into law at the last minute. Although the Fleet Reserve Association called the proposal a positive development, it added that any changes in VA disability rules should be thoroughly evaluated. 
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
REPUBLICANS JOIN FIGHT AGAINST VETERANS' TAX TRADEOFF
September 19,2003

 

Senior Republicans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee have joined Democrats and veterans in protest against any plan to cut the number of veterans who qualify for VA disability benefits in order to pay for concurrent receipt.Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., committee chairman, and three subcommittee chairmen wrote that the proposed changes "could have far-reaching and unintended consequences for millions of servicemembers and veterans." This follows a letter to the President by the Senate's top Democrats, Tom Daschle, S.D., and Harry Reid, Nev., which said it was "outrageous to pit one group of disabled veterans against another." Cost estimates for full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation have been set at $58 billion over 10 years.

Concurrent Receipt Update
Wed, 24 Sep 2003
 

 

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Arlen Specter held an emergency hearing on September 24, 2003, to hear testimony regarding the House majority leadership plan to discontinue granting service connection for all disabilities except those that directly result from the performance of job-related tasks of a servicemember’s military occupation.  All the veterans’ service organizations testifying strongly and uniformly opposed such change in benefit eligibility.

 

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi testified that VA estimates approximately two-thirds of all current service-connected disabled veterans would not be eligible for service connection if this proposed new standard were applied to them.  The plan by the House majority leadership would make the new restrictions on service connection apply to all new claims for service connection and all claims for increased compensation, including all claims for increased compensation by veterans currently service connected.  The House majority leadership proposed this plan as a way to drastically reduce spending on compensation and other benefits provided to veterans on account of service-connected disabilities to use the savings to pay for legislation authorizing concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation.  All the veterans’ organizations testified in full support of concurrent receipt but condemned this plan to pay for it by denying any increase in disability benefits to the majority of today’s veterans and by denying all benefits for service connection to the majority of tomorrow’s veterans. 

 

Unfortunately, we have seen correspondence from some in military associations who vocally support trading away the rights of two-thirds of tomorrow’s veterans in exchange for concurrent receipt.  Such divisive self-serving moves endanger the unity of the military and veterans’ communities and threaten to reduce our combined lobbying strength.  In addition, those who support the sacrifice of benefits of two-thirds of tomorrow’s veterans for concurrent receipt for today’s military retirees do not seem to understand that two-thirds of today’s military retirees who do not already receive the maximum compensation available under law would also be adversely affected in that they could not get increased disability evaluations if less than 100% and, even if already 100%, could not get compensation in addition to the 100% rating under special statutory awards for such things as service-connected anatomical loss or loss of use of extremities, blindness, housebound status, and need of aid and attendance, etc.  These disabled military retirees would also be denied such ancillary VA benefits as the automobile allowance, specially adapted housing, and nursing home care, etc., unless they could prove that their service-connected disabilities were caused by the direct performance of military duties.  In addition, two-thirds of our sons and daughters who will be tomorrow’s military retirees will also be denied all these service-connected benefits.  The DAV supports ending the unjust prohibition against concurrent receipt for all disabled military longevity retirees, but we adamantly oppose trading away the benefits of two-thirds of our disabled veterans and military retirees for concurrent receipt.  The DAV works to build better lives for all disabled veterans and their families.

 

Please click here:  http://www.dav.org/voters/statement_surratt_092303.html to read DAV’s September 23, 2003, testimony before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  We urge you to continue your grassroots efforts to defeat this proposal to greatly limit service connection and to get legislation authorizing concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation.


ARMED FORCES NEWS
BILL WOULD AID COLD WAR TEST VETERANS
September 26, 2003


HR-2433 would make it easier for veterans who took part in secret chemical and germ-warfare tests during the Cold War to receive medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would place such veterans in the same priority with veterans who took part in atomic testing, those affected by Agent Orange in Vietnam, and those with illnesses associated with the Gulf War. The tests, which took place on land and sea, were part of Project 112, which was operated by the Deseret Test Center in Utah from 1962 to 1973. The tests included project Shad (Shipboard Hazard and Defense). The next step for the measure is Senate consideration. 
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
HOUSE STIFFENS ON 
CONCURRENT RECEIPT PLAN

September 26, 2003

An agreement between House Republican leaders and the White House for concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation may face the scrap pile, according to reports. The plan, which would include a severe cutback in future VA disability awards, has run into vehement opposition from several veterans' groups and others. Meanwhile, in a race against the time clock, House and Senate lawmakers have shifted priorities from fixing concurrent receipt to fixing temporary monthly imminent-danger pay and family-separation allowance increases that are due to revert Oct. 1. Although the House and Senate agree on extending the temporary pays, their versions in the fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill vary and must be hammered together soon or deployed troops will face a reduction in pays. 
 

HOUSE COMMITTEE BACKS TAX HELP
FOR EMPLOYEES AND RETIREES
September 26, 2003

 
 
 


Stephen Barr can be reached by e-mail at barrs@washpost.com.
 
By Stephen Barr
Friday, September 26, 2003; Page B02

The House Government Reform Committee yesterday approved bills that would provide federal retirees with a tax break on their health insurance premiums and would allow more government employees to sign up for tax-free transit subsidies.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), approved the bills on voice votes.

Davis, who sponsored the retiree bill, said the measure "provides a means of relief from rising health care premiums." Supporters estimated that it would save the typical retiree $400 annually.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said the transit bill, which he sponsored, would expand the availability of transit vouchers, which can be worth as much as $100 monthly, and help ease traffic congestion in the Washington area. "Using transit is one of the most cost-effective, environmentally sound and efficient ways for federal employees to get to their workplace," Moran said.

The vote on the retiree bill came after three years of effort on the part of Davis and the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, a 400,000-member group that has lobbied for "premium conversion," as it is called.

Davis's bill would alter the tax code and allow civil service and military retirees to pay their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program premiums on a pretax basis. It also would permit active-duty military personnel to take a tax deduction on their Tricare health insurance supplemental premiums.

Since 2000, federal employees have paid their health insurance premiums with pretax dollars through a premium conversion program. But the tax code does not allow the perk to be extended to retirees.

"The premium conversion benefit helps federal workers pay for their health insurance and this tax relief could also enable federal annuitants living on fixed incomes to bear this burden," said Charles L. Fallis, president of NARFE. Last week, FEHBP announced premiums would increase by an average of 10.6 percent in 2004.

Davis told his colleagues that "it is important for this committee to make a statement" on the proposed retiree tax break because the bill must also receive the approval of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Ways and Means panel has shown little interest in the issue, in part because of the bill's cost -- perhaps $7 billion over 10 years -- and concerns over whether the tax break should be extended to all retirees, not just those who worked for the government. 


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