Stop Penalizing Veterans Retired from the Military Due to Service‑Incurred Disabilities
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Until recently, military retirees who were also rated by the Department of Veterans Affairs as being at least 50% disabled as a result of their military service were forced to choose between receiving either their military pension OR disability compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Congress partially corrected this injustice, recognizing that a military pension is earned compensation for a service member's faithful service to our nation and a promised benefit for his or her military service (10 USC, Chapters 61-67), and disability compensation is an entirely separate benefit, administered through a separate government agency, to compensate all veterans (not just retirees) for service-connected injuries or illnesses, provided the injury is connected to the veteran's military service and the veteran was not dishonorably discharged. (38 USC §§ 1110, 1131).
Military retirees were being unjustly penalized for suffering incurable injuries or diseases in the service of our nation by being denied a benefit (disability compensation) available to any veteran who served any length of time in uniform, lest they be required to surrender their earned military retirement/pension in order to avoid receiving “dual compensation.” This situation was particularly cruel when one considers that injured retirees, unlike perfectly healthy retirees, have fewer opportunities to obtain and maintain meaningful employment due to their service‑connected injuries or illnesses. They sacrificed their health and wellness to serve our country, and we denied them either their earned military pension OR the disability compensation they were entitled to, in spite of their being otherwise eligible for both, in the name of saving money.
The fix to this injustice is codified at 10 USC § 1414. That law states that military retirees who are eligible for both a military pension (retired pay) AND who are rated by the Department of Veterans Affairs as being at least 50% disabled as a result of their military service need not choose between receiving their full pension or receiving disability compensation, but may finally receive both.
As positive a step as this law and subsequent amendments to it were, there is still a group of disabled military retirees who are left out and penalized financially for becoming injured or ill in the service of our nation: military retirees who were retired with less than 20 years of qualified service due to a service-connected disability.
While one might argue that having served less than 20 years, those military retirees who were retired due to a military service-connected disability may justly be forced to choose between pension benefits and VA disability compensation, this particular class of military retirees actually has a greater need to receive both benefits. For starters, military service members involuntarily retired due to a service‑connected disability prior to completing 20 years of service have already incurred a significant financial penalty in the form of a greatly reduced pension, as military pension amounts are calculated according to the member's highest 36 months of basic pay multiplied by either their service disabling disability percentage (which is NOT the same as their VA disability rating, and is normally far less) or a calculation involving their length of service, whichever method is more beneficial to the service member. A career cut short due to disability incurred in the line of duty is a career with a significantly lower final pay (or last 36 months) than a career allowed to continue to 20 years' fruition.
Changing the law to ease this restriction would not “open the floodgates” to all disabled veterans. But for an injury or illness incurred in the line of duty, that is, disability due to the member's military service, the service member will not be retired from the military for disability but will simply be discharged as unsuited for further military service. Members retired for disability must already face significant scrutiny over their injuries or illness, and a painful, protracted review process that routinely exceeds 2 years, before a decision in favor of military retirement for disability might possibly be reached.
A military member forcibly retired due to an injury or illness incurred in the line of duty, and rated as 100% disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, has little to no hope of ever securing meaningful employment once forcibly retired from the military. In contrast, a 20-year retiree with a 50% VA disability rating might thrive in a sedentary (e.g. office) job and secure significant earnings in addition to his or her dual military pension and VA disability compensation. Thus, the 100% disabled retiree should not be penalized for having his or her military career cut short due to a severe service‑connected disability. On the contrary, his or her sacrifice should be honored and dual compensation allowed just as it is for the 20 year retiree with a 50% disability rating.
Therefore, I propose to amend 10 USC § 1414 by deleting subparagraph (b) in its entirety, or in the alternative to amend subparagraph (b)(2) to read as follows:
(2) Disability retirees with less than 20 years of service.-Subsection (a) does not apply to a member retired under chapter 61 of this title with less than 20 years of service otherwise creditable under section 1405 of this title, or with less than 20 years of service computed under section 12732 of this title, at the time of the member's retirement, unless the disability retiree has at least 10 years of service or is eligible for veterans' disability compensation for a qualifying service-connected disability or disabilities rated either individually or cumulatively at 100 percent.
The longest enlistment length is 6 years, so by serving at least 10 years, a service member has essentially indicated his/her intent to make a career of military service. Being forcibly retired early due to a service-connected disability is a traumatic and heartbreaking occurrence for many disability retirees, who would have continued serving until 20 years but for becoming injured or ill in the line of duty. Likewise, a retiree rated as 100% disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs is in a dire situation, and unlikely to be able to obtain or maintain meaningful employment. Adding either or both categories of disability retirees to 10 USC § 1414(a)'s allowance of both retired pay and veterans' disability compensation not only further corrects the injustice partially remedied by 10 USC § 1414, but assists our most vulnerable military retirees in maintaining some semblance of a decent standard of living.
If any group of Americans is deserving of a financial benefit (or in this case, removal of an unjust financial penalty codified in law), it is military retirees who became injured or ill in the service of our nation. Therefore, I urge Congress to amend 10 USC § 1414 by either deleting subparagraph (b) in its entirety, or in the alternative by amending subparagraph (b)(2) as indicated above. To do so would make a world of difference in the lives of many military retirees who answered their nation's call and were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of all that this country stands for, and indeed have sacrificed their health and future employability serving our nation.
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