- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I am one of those veterans who got out on the premise that I would get my severance pay. I, too, was not told that if I got a service connection disability that I would no longer receive my pay. If it is considered retirement pay, why do some retirees get the big shaft? There should be some type of compromise. Its not like we knew. Had I known this, I would have stayed longer, maybe. Is there any way we can get someone to look at this more in depth, because it’s unfair? — David G.

Dear David,

The Military Officers Association (MOA) recently reported that Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) has announced a temporary suspension of recoupment of Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI), Special Separation Benefit (SSB) and separation payments from military retired pay, effective June 1, pending a formal policy and legal review by the Defense Department.

VSI, SSB and involuntary separation payments were “downsizing” tools used by the services during the 1990s to reduce manpower levels. Members who received those voluntary and involuntary separation payments and who subsequently qualified for Guard, Reserve or other military retirement are required by law to repay them out of their military retirement pay.

Some affected retirees reached out to their legislators, stating that the repayment formula is creating a financial hardship. The repayment formula is set by law, so the Pentagon can’t alter repayment schedules.

Earlier this month, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire Democrats, introduced the Military Retired Pay Fairness Act of 2009 (S. 1008 and H.R. 2302, respectively) which would limit the recoupment formula to 25 percent of a member’s retirement pay.

Pentagon officials imposed the temporary suspension to assess what options, if any, may be available to provide any appropriate relief for retirees hurt by the economic downturn or other circumstances.

The temporary suspension may also reflect anticipation of a provision in the Senates fiscal 2009 supplemental defense appropriations bill (S. 1054), which Capitol Hill leaders hope to finish early next month. The provision would authorize the secretary of defense to adjust the repayment formula if necessary to avoid undue financial hardship.

DFAS will mail letters this month to affected retirees advising them of the suspension and provide another letter after the review is finished. Retirees can find additional information on the DFAS Web site.

Shaft notes

The good news is that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has awarded a $38.3 million contract to the Walsh Construction Co. of Chicago to construct an Ambulatory Care Center for the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.

The project will provide outpatient services at the H.J. Heinz Division in a two-story, 117,000-square-foot structure, with a connecting corridor to the existing community living center. The new facility will provide primary care, physical rehabilitation, audiology, dental care, outpatient pharmacy and patient education.

The construction contract also provides for the renovation of the community living center, demolition of two other buildings, site excavation and grading, construction of new roads, parking lots and walks, and landscaping.

The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System serves the veteran population throughout the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Last year, VA spent nearly $3.3 billion on behalf of the commonwealth’s 1 million veterans. VA operates 10 major medical centers in Pennsylvania, nearly 40 outpatient clinics and four national cemeteries.

The bad news however, is that the flagship VA medical center in Washington has not received the necessary construction funds to improve quality care for Washington area veterans. There is an urgent need to provide parking for veterans arriving for medical appointments.

                                                              • • •

L. Tammy Duckworth, VA assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, was honored recently by the American Association of University Women/NASPA - Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, along with four other women at the University of Maryland at College Park. She accepted the Women of Distinction Award during the 2009 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

“Today, we have women serving in combat and being recognized for their valor and fierceness in battle. And when they return home, President Obama and Secretary [of Veterans Affairs Eric K.] Shinseki are committed to improving the care that our brave warriors receive,” Ms. Duckworth said. “I am honored to be here today in the company of such accomplished and talented women.”

Since 1985, the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders has provided a platform to help thousands of college and university women develop leadership skills, network with other student leaders and interact with women who hold leadership positions.

The conference is hosted by the AAUW Leadership and Training Institute and the NASPA Center for Scholarship, Research and Professional Development for Women. AAUW is among the worlds leaders in philanthropic support for womens higher education and is committed to ending the underrepresentation of women and girls in leadership and key professional positions.

This years Women of Distinction awardees also included Diane Rehm, host of “The Diane Rehm Show”; Anucha Browne Sanders, senior associate athletic director of marketing at the University at Buffalo; Martine Rothblatt, founder of United Therapeutics; and Melissa Poe Hood, founder of Kids for a Clean Environment.

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.

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