Commentary

Concurrent receipt: A call for fair and equitable treatment of military retirees with disabilities

Throughout our nation’s history we have witnessed countless examples of how quickly our troops will respond whenever and wherever they are needed. The willingness of American forces to go in harms way is never in question. Our troops stand up for us. That’s their job. In return, they deserve politicians who will stand up for them.

The problem:

If you’re retired from the military and you also have a service-connected disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs, you may have a financial problem. I’m referring to the issue known as “concurrent receipt.” Here’s how it works. If you are retired from the military you receive a pension based upon years of service. If you also have a service-connected disability you are entitled to receive a disability benefit from the VA. The “percentage” of your VA disability rating is where things get ugly. If your disability rating by the VA is 50 percent to 100 percent, you are entitled to your military pension and your VA disability benefit, i.e. concurrent receipt. Not only are you retired like other healthy military retirees, but you also suffered a service-connected injury for which you receive tax-exempt compensation from the VA. However, if your VA disability rating is determined to be below 50 percent, the monthly disability payment that you receive from the VA is automatically subtracted from your monthly military retirement check. You may want to read that again. It would be difficult to find a more unfair law that arbitrarily penalizes some veterans.

I think about important issues affecting veterans like concurrent receipt when I hear someone’s well intentioned, “Thank you for your service.” It is a very gracious comment for today’s veterans to hear. But I, like most military retirees, do not expect or need anyone’s thanks. We liked it! We stayed for a career. We were paid to do a difficult job involving multiple deployments and warfare and separation from family. And if we are injured or suffer a disability as a result of that service, we expect to be treated fairly and equitably.

The Military Officers Association of America has correctly pointed out that military retired pay was earned by service alone. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to also have a service-connected disability should have that compensation added to, not subtracted from, their earned retirement pay. MOAA’s good efforts on Capitol Hill have yet to sway Congress, even though it’s safe to assume that in the history of our country there has never been legislation that allows for a congressman’s pension to be reduced due to his or her receiving a disability payment.

The solution:

There have been bipartisan efforts by some members of Congress to correct this injustice and to make concurrent receipt the law. H.R. 333 was introduced in the House in January 2019 and currently has 33 bipartisan co-sponsors. It was referred to the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs where it has remained since Feb. 1, 2019. In the Senate, S.208, the aptly named “Retired Pay Restoration Act,” was introduced in January 2019 with 28 senators from both political parties as co-sponsors. It has been referred to the Armed Services Committee without further progress.

Putting this veterans’ issue in perspective:

It is not easy to put government spending issues in perspective, especially when it comes to veterans. For example, the DoD recently gave “veteran status” to some civilians who served in Vietnam, thus allowing them and their families to apply for VA benefits. They are considered to have been on “active-duty” during Vietnam. In another attempt to do right by those who served our country, a bill was recently introduced in congress to provide VA health care to Korean-Americans who had served as Korean soldiers in Vietnam fighting along side our U.S. forces. What other country would even consider such kind and generous policies? And yet, our legislators are being frugal when it comes to the issue of concurrent receipt by disabled military retirees!

The bottom line:

Concurrent receipt should apply fairly and equally to all VA ratings, not just 50 percent or more. Just as we rely on our troops to stand up for us in times of need, we should expect our legislators to stand up for all veterans in their time of need. Passing a bipartisan concurrent receipt bill that prevents an earned military pension from being reduced by a disability payment is the right thing to do.

Steven J. Fagan is a retired Navy Reserve captain whose tours of duty included Vietnam as a Naval Aviator and the Persian Gulf War as a Navy physician.

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