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Disabled Veterans Lobby for Full Retirement Pay
The NY Times ^ | May 26, 2002 | The NY Times

Posted on 05/26/2002 7:10:09 PM PDT by summer

May 26, 2002

Disabled Veterans Lobby for Full Retirement Pay

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

WASHINGTON - On Oct. 8, 1967, when John Lawton began moving through the fog and rain of Vietnam to reach a group of fellow American soldiers ambushed in a rice field, his retirement pension could not have been farther from his mind. But much of that pension vanished that day, the moment bullets ripped into his chest, leg and arm.

To help disabled veterans like Mr. Lawton live with their wounds, the government gives them a monthly check, called disability pay. But because of a law passed more than 110 years ago, it must subtract that money directly from their retirement pensions. For Mr. Lawton and many other severely disabled veterans, that reduces their pensions to practically zero, veterans groups say.

Mr. Lawton, 64, a resident of Vienna, Va., who retired from the Army with the rank of colonel in 1991, said that he earned his retirement pay during 37 years of military service, and that it is unfair to ask him to give it up because he was wounded. "I didn't ask to get shot," he said.

"If you work for I.B.M., you don't have to give up your retirement pay" to get disability compensation, Mr. Lawton said.

It is only the guy who goes and fights for his country who "gets zapped," he added.

Disabled veterans can keep their retirement pay if they refuse disability pay from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But veterans groups say the two payments serve distinct purposes, and one should not force a reduction of the other.

The disability payment is meant to compensate veterans for the income they could have earned if not disabled, and for pain and suffering. Retirement pay is part of the compensation package the military promises its employees for 20 years or more of service.

Disability pay ranges from $103 to $2,163 a month, depending on the severity of the disability. Many choose to receive it despite the mandatory reduction in their retirement pensions because it is tax free, while their pensions generally are not.

The Defense Department has long opposed changing the law to allow veterans to receive both retirement and disability pay.

"Compensating for both simultaneously overcompensates the individual," a Defense official said. "Moreover, this expansion would stress the Department of Veterans Affairs' ability to meet its current responsibilities to veterans, requiring the department to process over 800,000 new or reopened claims over the next five years."

The official also said that other federal agencies require that retirees choose between retirement pay and disability pay.

"A retired civil servant, for example, may not receive civil service disability benefits or workers' compensation benefits in addition to civil service retirement benefits," the official said.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that guaranteeing both payments to all disabled veterans would cost the government about $40 billion in the next 10 years. The cost this year would be about $3 billion, about 1 percent of the Pentagon's 2002 budget.

The high price tag, veterans groups say, makes Congress reluctant to change the law, but some members say the law sends the wrong message to troops like those fighting on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

"We need to assure the men and women in the military now that we will protect their futures," said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.

For more than 20 years, veterans groups have been working to overturn the law, which they say affects about 500,000 veterans. Now, encouraged by minor successes in the last two years, they are making their strongest push yet.

But the veterans are looking for much more than words of support, which mean little, veterans groups say, if Congress fails to pass a separate spending measure to pay for the change.

Last year, for example, Congress passed a bill supporting the right of veterans to both disability and retirement pay. But the bill said Congress would pay for it only if the White House requested the money. It did not.

Critics say it was a classic case of Congress's making politically popular promises without following through with the tough budgetary decisions necessary to pay for them.

"There needs to be a greater correlation between what Congress says and what it does," said Michael Jordan, a director at the Retired Officers Association.

This year, the House has given preliminary approval to spending $516 million in 2003 and $5.8 billion in the next five years for veterans with the severest disabilities to receive both disability and retirement pay. A proposal passed by the Senate's budget committee calls for spending roughly the same amount as the House, also for veterans with the severest disabilities.

Senator Reid said that when the budget plan goes to a vote on the Senate floor, he will offer an amendment that will call for spending enough money so that all veterans can get both retirement and disability pay.

The situation dates back to 1891, when Congress learned that veterans of the war with Mexico continued to receive disability pay along with active duty pay after being recalled to duty. So Congress passed a law saying that veterans could only receive disability pay if they received no other compensation from the military, including their retirement pensions.

The law was modified in 1944, allowing disabled veterans to receive their retirement pensions, but only if it was reduced dollar for dollar by their disability pay.

Since then, the only significant change has been a provision in a 1999 law that gives severely disabled veterans with at least 20 years of service an extra $100 to $300 a month. That provision will expire if Congress decides to overturn the 1891 law.

Meanwhile, disabled veterans like Mr. Lawton say they are forced to finance their retirement pensions with money from their own pockets.

"My employer has the responsibility to come up with this money," he said, referring to the Department of Defense. But convincing the department of that will be no small task, some experts say.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: disabilitypay; disabledvets; retirementpay
I do not oppose vets receiving both retirement and disability pay. Is there any voter who would actually oppose this for our nation's disabled vets? If so, why?
1 posted on 05/26/2002 7:10:09 PM PDT by summer
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To: 68-69TonkinGulfYatchClub; Snow Bunny
FYI.
2 posted on 05/26/2002 7:10:44 PM PDT by summer
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To: summer
A NYT story,WOW!
3 posted on 05/26/2002 7:20:45 PM PDT by larryjohnson
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To: summer
But if we pay them won't we have to cut back benefits to those who lost life's lottery? I mean who's a bigger voting block, welfare moms or disabled veterans? /sarcasm
4 posted on 05/26/2002 7:22:02 PM PDT by Bogey78O
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To: summer
What am I missing?

Disability is for those who must leave before completing their time and being eligible for retirement.

You can not be disabled after retirement, can you? I know you can't in the Civil Service System.

5 posted on 05/26/2002 7:33:21 PM PDT by 3D-JOY
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To: 3D-JOY
I can see the government's position on this. I'm a federal employee, and a veteran, although not a disabled vet. Disability pay is to compensate those who can't work and have no other income. A civil service employee can't retire with a civil service pension and still receive either workers' comp payments or a disability pension (federal or military).

However, I don't mean to demean the sacrifice of America's disabled veterans. Maybe there's a compromise possible, such as a lump sum payment to compensate them for pain and suffering.

6 posted on 05/26/2002 7:47:07 PM PDT by Ciexyz
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To: summer
Why take care of vets when there are so many homosexual civic centers to build?
7 posted on 05/26/2002 7:54:24 PM PDT by Paul Atreides
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To: Ciexyz
I've got a compromise solution. We throw away $15 billion a year in foreign aid. Let's redirect that to disabled veterans. Incidentally, I'm a combat veteran without any disability.
8 posted on 05/26/2002 7:55:27 PM PDT by caltrop
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To: summer
I'm getting a little tired of all the whiners. These guys are getting recompense from their "employer" for their disability. This is money they get for life. But there's always someone looking to try to get more of something for nothing.

I have to listen to my dad every month or so whining about being a "notch baby" and getting screwed by the government because someone is getting more social security payment than he is, just because he was born in a certain year. Then I get to listen to him whine because he was in the Merchant Marines during WWII and he got screwed there, too, no GI Bill and until recently no medical help, either. Reminding him that he's not lying in a ditch crying out for help doesn't seem to make him feel any better about it. Someone, somewhere has a better deal than he does and it's JUST NOT FAIR! It gets old, real old.

9 posted on 05/26/2002 8:02:43 PM PDT by Auntie Mame
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To: Auntie Mame
One of the problems is that there is too many whiners who deserve nothing, and complicate the system for the truly deserving. I have a brother that is one. He complains of every malady (sp) known to mankind, when in truth, there is nothing wrong with him. He claims to be a viet-nam vet (he ain't), claims to suffer ptsd from the mortar attack he was in in Thailand (he wasn't), and the new catch-all of fibromyalgia. Hell, he is healthier than I am, but he sees a government hand out, and his hand is. God bless the true veterens.
10 posted on 05/26/2002 8:16:31 PM PDT by phil1750
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To: Auntie Mame
I am a retired disabled vet, and I appreciate the compensation I receive from the VA for my injuries. Injuries that cost me my ability to earn a paycheck in the civilian world. When you retire at 43 and have a family to raise what are you to do? Does begging on a street corner sound about right to you?

That's not the point. I served more the 20 years in the USAF and earned my retirement (pension)

11 posted on 05/26/2002 8:32:42 PM PDT by Militiaman7
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To: summer
Thank you for your support and kind words.

If any one would like to read more about Concurrent Receipt click here.Concurrent Receipt

12 posted on 05/26/2002 8:36:18 PM PDT by Militiaman7
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To: summer
I certainly would oppose this. Disability pay is to compensate people who have limited job opportunities because of an injury. A retiree isn't concerned about job opportunities.
The Vets already collect the higher of the disability or pension payment. They just can't collect both at the same time.
13 posted on 05/26/2002 8:39:33 PM PDT by speekinout
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To: Militiaman7
Waste of time trying to use reason with those that will not listen.
14 posted on 05/26/2002 8:48:51 PM PDT by cynicom
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To: phil1750
One of the problems is that there is too many whiners who deserve nothing, and complicate the system for the truly deserving.

Truer words were never spoken.

God bless the true veterans.

Yes!

15 posted on 05/26/2002 8:50:34 PM PDT by Auntie Mame
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To: Militiaman7
I am a retired disabled vet, and I appreciate the compensation I receive from the VA for my injuries.

Gratitude is riches. You, sir, are a rich man.

I've changed my mind. A man with your attitude deserves not only disability pay and retirement pay, but anything else America can offer. Thank you for your service.

16 posted on 05/26/2002 8:57:05 PM PDT by Auntie Mame
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To: summer
"Mr. Lawton, 64, a resident of Vienna, Va., who retired from the Army with the rank of colonel in 1991, said that he earned his retirement pay during 37 years of military service, and that it is unfair to ask him to give it up because he was wounded. "I didn't ask to get shot," he said"

Mr Lawton was wounded in Vietnam in 1967. He retired from the Army 24 years later in 1991. If he was so disabled, how did he complete 24 more years in the Army? If he was able to retire as a colonel with 37 years as stated, his retirement is adequate.

17 posted on 05/26/2002 9:35:40 PM PDT by Gnarly
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To: 3D-JOY
Lots of military retirees are diagnosed with military-related disabilities after RETIREMENT. It should be understood that we are talking about military RETIREES who are also disabled and that not all disabled veterans are retired from the military (one need not have served a given length of time to be considered for a disability, but to be eligible for retirement pay they must). A military retiree who is also considered a "disabled veteran" has their retirement payment reduced by the amount of the disability payment. The only difference is that the "disability" payment is not taxable.
18 posted on 05/26/2002 10:39:30 PM PDT by callthemlikeyouseethem
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To: Gnarly
Many times an injury or illness doesn't show up immediately. You can only imagine what Mr. Lawton has suffered.

Who are you to judge him? In order to get his disability rating he had to prove to the VA beyond a shadow of a doubt that his disabilty was and is service connected. And it isn't an easy process.

19 posted on 05/26/2002 11:14:37 PM PDT by Militiaman7
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To: Militiaman7
How do you know that I don't know? Back to the basic premise of how you complete 24 additional years in the Army if disabled to that extent? Also didn't see what the degree of disability was.
20 posted on 05/26/2002 11:54:51 PM PDT by Gnarly
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To: Gnarly
I visit the local VA clinic every 6 months. They are still treating people for exposure to agent orange from over 30 years ago. They have been screening people who may have had blood transfusions, where the blood was tainted, and may have caused hepatitis. Persian Gulf vets are being treated for exposure to toxic chemicals. Six years ago, I had to undergo surgery at a VA hospital, my room mate had surgery to remove cancerous growths inside his body due to exposure to agent orange. So how do you put in your 20 or 30 years and then get a disability? Well sometimes the things you were exposed to, don't show up for 20 or 30 years.

I'm retired and I get a 10% disability which is immediately taken from my military retirement. I don't need the separate disability, but there are retirees out there with 50-100% disability that do.

Bruce Kurtz

21 posted on 05/27/2002 6:52:13 AM PDT by Bruce Kurtz
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To: Gnarly
You are answering your own question.

They didn't state the rating Mr. Lawton recieved. If it was 10-20% then he probably could continue his military career. If it was more then the army probably would have retired him medically.

In either case he should receive the disability payment for wounds/illness/injury suffered while on active duty (service connected) and his retirement pay (pension) which he earned. He shouldn't have to pick and choose.

22 posted on 05/27/2002 8:01:08 AM PDT by Militiaman7
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To: speekinout
A retiree isn't concerned about job opportunities.

Really? Tell me how many people in their late 30's to mid 40's can afford to take an instant 50%-70% cut in pay and NOT be concerned about job opportunities?

23 posted on 05/27/2002 8:16:27 AM PDT by Eagle Eye
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To: Bruce Kurtz
Depending on where the 10-20% originates, it can be very tough for an individual to stay constructively employed. That knee, back, or shoulder injury may not harm a finance clerk's outside job pursuits, butcould realy be a damper on a grunt or other combat arms trooper.
24 posted on 05/27/2002 8:20:08 AM PDT by Eagle Eye
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To: Eagle Eye
Very true
25 posted on 05/27/2002 9:07:27 AM PDT by Militiaman7
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To: Militiaman7
Sounds to me like you deserve the disability...and if you earned the retirement before becoming disabled...YOU SHOULD GET THEM BOTH!!
26 posted on 05/27/2002 1:34:55 PM PDT by 3D-JOY
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To: callthemlikeyouseethem
I am confused about disability after retirement...how could you continue to serve if disabled?

After retirement I thought all injuries were treated for life.

If those injuries became disabling then why not choose the better paying deal..maybe schooling and re-training too.

A policeman might retire and a month later finally have the heart attack he "earned" on the job. He can not apply for disability. He has no additional way to secure disability claim. Is this so very different?

27 posted on 05/27/2002 1:41:57 PM PDT by 3D-JOY
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To: Eagle Eye
Ah, yes. I had forgotten that military "retirement" is not like retirement for the rest of us.
28 posted on 05/27/2002 3:05:55 PM PDT by speekinout
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To: Militiaman7
Re your post #12 - My pleasure. Thank you for posting that link. :)
29 posted on 05/27/2002 6:12:13 PM PDT by summer
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To: summer
I retired with disability from the Army in 1983. I had 19 years 10 months and 3 days of military service. I had already been on the retirement list prior to receiving a disability retirement. I find that part of the concurrent law to be unconstitutional. Why do I say this. Concurrent law allows a non-disability retiree to receive concurrent pay regardless of years served and the disability retiree must have 20 years of service. That means if a non-disability retiree retired at 19 years and 6 months, he is eligable for concurrent pay if he has a VA rating of 50 % or more. I have a VA disability rating of 100% and am unable to draw concurrent pay because I did not have 20 years of service. The law discriminates against the disability retiree. I feel that no money should be taken from a retirees pay no matter what the percenatge rating the VA gives a retiree.Lets make this law fair for everyone.
30 posted on 09/15/2004 7:49:32 AM PDT by william s123
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