- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

In reference to your column of Nov. 14, I know where Carl R. is coming from.

I had the same thing happen to me. I received separation pay from the Army, and they withheld a flat 28 percent tax on it. Then the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told me the same thing: that they would withhold my monthly disability until my separation pay was paid back.

One important thing that Fort Irwin’s finance department did was give me a sheet with information about a Supreme Court ruling stating that taxes aren’t supposed to be taken out of separation pay. The law was never changed to reflect the ruling. I kept that paper and sent it in with my income-tax return, and the Internal Revenue Service refunded all of the money taken out of my separation pay.

Bryan P.



Via the Internet

Dear Bryan:

Thanks for sharing your experience with my readers. I am sure that many other veterans facing situations like yours and Carl’s will find this information helpful.

Dear Sarge:

You usually do great work, and I am a regular reader. Your column entitled “Some Merchant Marines can get Arlington burial,” which appeared Oct. 10, perpetuated an error common to newspeople and some others who really should know better, though, happily, your fundamental advice/answer was correct.

A “merchant marine” is not an individual. The term refers to the shipping industry of a nation, comprising its (usually oceangoing) merchant ships and supporting infrastructure ashore — hence “the U.S. Merchant Marine.” The individuals manning the ships are referred to as “merchant seamen” or “merchant mariners,” but never as “merchant marines.”

Incidentally, the casualty rate during World War II of the Merchant Marine was high relative to the U.S. armed forces and, I believe, was exceeded only by the casualty rate of the Marine Corps. To a large degree, P.L. 95-202 was a very belated recognition of that fact and authorized participating merchant mariners to receive all benefits administered by the VA. But, due to the lateness, this authorization actually meant only burial benefits for most.

Respectfully,

R.H.S.

Via the Internet

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

When did this term begin to be applied to individuals? “Merchant marine” means the commercial fleet flying the flag of a country. “Merchant marines” would mean the fleets of more than one country. The crews would be “merchant seamen” or, perhaps, “merchant mariners.”

One of my friends went to the school at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., to learn to be a seaman in 1944. He never called himself a “merchant marine.” He made several Atlantic crossings before World War II ended and then found there wasn’t a berth to be had. I was still underage.

Certainly, the cadets at King’s Point [location of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy] do not refer to themselves as “merchant marines.”

Full disclosure: A number of my great uncles were merchant seamen, as was my father briefly. I am a graduate of the Naval Academy and a retired Marine Corps officer who is quite sad at the demise of U.S. commercial shipping.

Semper Fi,

Jess O.

Via the Internet

Shaft notes

• I enjoyed meeting and hearing country singer Aaron Tippin sing at a recent U.S. Postal Service ceremony honoring Marine Corps heroes. Mr. Tippin was pleased to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our soldiers overseas. He traveled to Southwest Asia and entertained the troops by performing all of his hits, in addition to some new tracks from his forthcoming album.

“I can’t think of anywhere else I would spend a holiday away from my family except with the men and women serving our country,” he said. “They have been fighting for the rights we take for granted every day, and I want to make sure they know we’re thankful.”

• Congratulations to Communication Technologies Inc. (COMTek), a provider of wireless-communication products for both the federal government and the private sector, and the only non-Fortune 500 company in the Washington area to be named to the nationwide “Top 25 Military Friendly Employers” list compiled by G.I. Jobs magazine for 2005.

COMTek is one of only four companies in all of the U.S. outside of the ranks of the Fortune 500 to be so honored. As part of its extensive work for the federal government, COMTek employs and trains former active-duty and reserve military personnel.

COMTek President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Fergus said: “As a vet, I make it a top priority for COMTek to hire people who have served in the military. We’ve had an outstanding track record of hiring successful former and active-duty military hires who are both highly skilled in their positions and have proven integrity.

“From the very earliest days at COMTek, we decided to approach our business model from the viewpoint of understanding the military side of things. We are deeply honored to be singled out for such an exclusive recognition.”

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 [email protected]

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