- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

What can we do? I got out of the Army in 1992 under the Special Separation Benefit because the Army wanted to downsize. Why was it not explained to us more clearly that if we put in for a service-connected claim, we would have to pay back the government? To a lot of us who gave a lot of time to the military, it was a fresh start back to a normal life. At least that’s what I was hoping. Do you know whether this has been brought before Congress? I have contacted my representative and have gotten no more information on what is happening to all of us who got out. Something has to be done. Please help! Thank you for your concern and all that you do.

- Zachary S.

Via the Internet

Dear Zachary,

There is a case called St. Clair v. the United States that talks about taxes and severance pay for disability purposes only. Basically, this states that if the member was separated from a uniformed service for disability purposes and was paid severance pay, which was taxed, and later gets a favorable ruling from the VA for the same disability, the veteran can apply for a refund of the taxes that were withheld.

If the veteran was separated with severance pay for reasons other than a disability, no tax refund is available.

However, a Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) review is in progress. Retirees with questions can call DFAS Retired and Annuity Pay Contact Center at 800/321-1080 between 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Select options 5, 1, 5 and 0 to speak to a service representative.

Shaft notes:

Congratulations to a good friend, former Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, on his recent nomination to be appointed to the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission was established by Congress in 1923 as an agency of the executive branch of the federal government.

The commission - guardian of America’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and memorials - honors the service, achievements and sacrifice of members of the U.S. armed forces.

The commission’s commemorative mission includes:

c Designing, constructing, operating and maintaining permanent American cemeteries in foreign countries.

c Establishing and maintaining U.S. military memorials, monuments and markers where American armed forces have served overseas since April 6, 1917, and within the United States when directed by public law.

c Controlling the design and construction of permanent U.S. military monuments and markers by other U.S. citizens and organizations, both public and private, and encouraging their maintenance.

Patients suffering from undiagnosed illnesses will have an improved chance of discovering successful treatment options if a bill introduced by Rep. John Carter, Texas Republican, is approved.

Mr. Carter introduced the Charles August Long “Cal” Undiagnosed Disease Registry Act of 2009, HR2538. The bill is named for 5-year-old Carl August Long “Cal” of Cedar Park, Texas, who died in December 2006 of an undiagnosed illness. The bill would create an Undiagnosed Disease Registry at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for maintenance of case records to advance the early detection, prevention, treatment, cure and control of undiagnosed and unregistered diseases.

Mr. Carter introduced the bill at a news teleconference with Carl’s mother, Heather Long of Cedar Park, Texas. Mrs. Long asked Mr. Carter to help with legislation after the family struggled for three years to discover the underlying cause of Carl’s death.

Mr. Carter, secretary of the House Republican Conference, said a national database for undiagnosed illnesses would benefit not only children, but also would be a health asset for the nation’s veterans.

This bill could significantly lessen the amount of time necessary to research and diagnose their symptoms and develop effective treatments. The National Institutes of Health recently began a program to provide help for patients suffering from undiagnosed diseases and to date has received more than 2,000 requests for help. The Carter bill is intended to work with the NIH effort to allow for a repository of all case information gathered at the CDC.

Kudos to Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and ranking Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina for their recent mark up of vital veterans’ legislation.

“I am pleased the committee voted to send a bill directing advance appropriations for VA health care to the full Senate,” Mr. Burr said. “It is wrong to put the quality of care our nations veterans receive at risk because VA doesnt know what its budget will be.”

The committee voted to send Mr. Burr’s Military Spouses Residency Relief Act to the full Senate. In recent decades, there has been a growing recognition that military spouses play a very important role in the success of our armed forces. But, even though they frequently move in support of service members and the military, they are not provided with the same residency benefits afforded to service members. Currently, service members have the ability to claim and maintain one state of residence, regardless of where military orders may send them. The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act would extend similar rights to military spouses, easing some of the burden and headaches they now face.

“These significant and far-reaching bills will enhance VA’s ability to furnish veterans with the quality health care and benefits that they have earned through their service to this country. I am pleased that we have bipartisan support on these issues, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to secure enactment of these bills,” Mr. Akaka said.

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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