- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2007

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am 70 years old and have been making Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments for more than 30 years. Has legislation passed or is any pending that would allow me to discontinue payments? If so, what are the bill numbers?

Thank you,

Retired Master Sgt. John D.

Via the Internet

Dear John:

My sources at the Military Officers Association of America tell me that if Congress does nothing more on SBP, you will stop paying premiums in October 2008. However, Congress is considering advancing the effective date of the paid-up provision to October 2007.

Here is the most recent legislative action on this issue: Rep. H. James Saxton, New Jersey Republican, has once again introduced Paid Up SBP legislation, H.R. 784, which would move up the current 2008 implementation date for 30-year paid-up Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage. In the Senate, Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, has introduced the Military Retiree Survivor Equity Act, S.935, which would repeal the SBP-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset and move up the effective date of paid-up SBP to Oct. 1, 2007. In the House, Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas Democrat, has introduced H.R. 1927, a companion bill to S. 935.

Shaft notes

A buddy of the Sarge is trying to locate retired Army Col. Gerardo Acosta Garcia. If anyone out there knows his whereabouts, please contact me via e-mail or phone.

More than 500 U.S. veterans will travel to Houston to participate in the largest sports and recreational competition for senior veterans in the world. The 21st National Veterans Golden Age Games, sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Canteen Service and Help Hospitalized Veterans, will take place Aug. 27-31.

Golden Age Games competitions are open to all U.S. military veterans 55 or older that are currently receiving care at a VA medical facility. Hosted by the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, the games give participants the opportunity to compete in ambulatory, visually impaired and wheelchair divisions according to their age in sports such as swimming, bicycling, horseshoes, bowling, croquet, discus and shot put. For a number of events, the games serve as a qualifying competition for participating in the National Senior Games, said a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The majority of the Golden Age Games events will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The opening ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Aug. 27. Festivities include music and a ceremonial lighting of the torch. The competition begins with bicycling on Aug. 28 at 8 a.m. at Houston’s Reliant Park. During the competition, veterans will be treated to Texas hospitality at area attractions.

For more information on the Golden Age Games, look online at www.veteransgoldenagegames.va.gov or call Jenny Tankersley Ballou, National Veterans Golden Age Games public affairs coordinator, at 757/728-3450 or 757/254-6058.

It is great to hear some good news from Iraq from the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.

Gary Kurpius recently took a two-day trip to the region that included accompanying U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on patrols in downtown Baghdad. He says the troops on the ground think their war is winnable.

“There are many success stories that are happening every day that are not being reported in the mainstream media,” said Mr. Kurpius, a Vietnam veteran from Anchorage, Alaska. “Chief among those unreported stories is the fact that the new strategy is producing measurable results.”

Mr. Kurpius witnessed significant signs of progress while accompanying three foot and vehicle patrols into bustling Iraqi marketplaces that just a few short months ago were deserted.

“Our troops are living with Iraqi forces in outposts scattered throughout Baghdad,” he said. “The nonstop security is making a positive impact on the safety and well-being of the civilian population, which in turn is giving them hope for better future — a future without sectarian violence or foreign extremists.”

Mr. Kurpius said challenges still remain, especially in the political arena, but he cited security as the overarching priority because without it, nothing can be achieved.

“I met with top leaders like Army General David Petraeus and an Iraqi general, and I met with squad leaders and privates who suit up and head outside the wire every day in 125-degree heat. Our troops are well aware of how long we’ve been in Iraq and of waning public support of their mission, but their morale is super-high because the new strategy is producing positive results,” he said.

“They told me that they just need a little more time and patience so that all the parts of the new strategy can come together. We owe them that much.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.