Skip to comments.Disabled Veterans Lobby for Full Retirement Pay
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.
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.
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.
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.
That's not the point. I served more the 20 years in the USAF and earned my retirement (pension)
If any one would like to read more about Concurrent Receipt click here.Concurrent Receipt
Truer words were never spoken.
God bless the true veterans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?