- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I would like to bring to your attention the Keep Our Promise to America’s Military Retirees Act, H.R. 3474, which I introduced last November. The bill has been endorsed by many military and veterans’ service organizations and enjoys broad bipartisan support — currently there are 245 co-sponsors — but the House leadership has not moved it through the committee process.

We have sent thousands of troops into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are creating a new generation of veterans and our government must be accountable for the promises it makes to young men and women who are asked to serve our country. They have performed a tremendous service to our country at great personal sacrifice and it is important to me that we do right by them.

Over the past year the courts have laid to rest the question of who is responsible for making good on promises of lifetime health care that were made to young men and women who joined the service during World War II and the Korean era. Recruits were promised by their own government that if they served a career of 20 years in military service, they and their dependents would receive health care upon retirement. But while these career soldiers put their lives on the line for our country, the government did not keep its end of the contract.

In 1956, Congress enacted the first laws that defined, and began to limit, the level of health care that would be provided to military retirees. These laws made health care available at military facilities conditioned on space availability — in other words, military retirees had to go to the end of the line and wait for health care. Subsequent laws removed them entirely from the military health care system when they became eligible for Medicare, resulting in a dramatic reduction in health care benefits.

Last year a Federal Appeals Court ruled that promises by military recruiters were invalid because Congress had not authorized them to make such promises. But although the retired colonels who sued the government lost their case on that technicality, the court clearly recognized the moral strength of their case and indicated that Congress could act now to address this issue.

H.R. 3474 offers meaningful restitution for broken promises by waiving both the Medicare Part B premium and the late fee for World War II and Korean-era military retirees. H.R. 3474 also addresses broken promises made to military retirees who joined the service after 1956. Even though laws were on the books beginning in 1956 that defined and limited military retiree health care, the sad truth is that the empty promise of lifetime health care was used as a recruiting tool for many years to those who entered the military after 1956. This is documented in recruiting literature well into the 1990s.

These retirees, mainly from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars who are too young to qualify for Medicare and Tricare-for-Life (TFL), do qualify for the military health care program known generally as Tricare. Tricare works well for many military retirees but fails to deliver quality health care for others who cannot get care at overburdened military treatment facilities. And too many retirees cannot find private doctors who will put up with the bureaucratic inefficiencies or low reimbursements they encounter with Tricare Standard.

Military retirees who are not well served by Tricare deserve an alternative. The Keep Our Promise Act offers these retirees the option of enrolling in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). The bill also reimburses military retirees for expenses they incur under FEHBP that they would not have incurred under Tricare.

It is up to Congress to make good on the promises that were made — and broken — to our military retirees. They are not asking for handouts — they ask only for what was promised to them and what they earned. I hope you can share this information with your readers and help persuade the House leadership to hold hearings on H.R. 3474 and move it through the legislative process.

Thank you again for your great service to our country.

Sincerely,

Rep. Chris Van Hollen

Maryland Democrat

Dear Mr. Van Hollen:

As you know, in June of 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to consider a Nov. 18, 2002, federal appeals court ruling in a suit filed against the government of the United States on behalf of World War II and Korean-era military retirees. Retired Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day, a highly decorated Medal of Honor recipient, filed a breach of contract suit on behalf of two retired colonels who contended they had been recruited into military service as young men with the promise of lifetime health care upon retirement after serving at least 20 years in uniform.

It is imperative that the House leadership immediately move H.R. 3474 through the committee process. Justice delayed is justice denied.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO 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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