- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Sorry to bother you with what I think should be a straightforward question with a straightforward answer, but I cannot get an answer.

I am a Vietnam vet (not a retiree) who has 100 percent disability for post-traumatic stress disorder. The way the VA put it in my letter is that I am 70 percent, which they increased to 100 percent for unemployability. My question is: When I start collecting Social Security benefits at retirement age, will the VA reduce my status to 70 percent (or to 0 percent)?

Thank you,

Tom M.

Springfield, Va.

Dear Tom:

The powers that be at VA tell me that while there may be factors that could affect continuing receipt of disability compensation at the 100 percent rate, Social Security is not one of them — eligibility for payment at the 100 percent rate based on individual unemployability looks only at earned income, and Social Security is not counted as earned income. Similarly, receipt of Social Security would have no impact on a PTSD rating.

Shaft notes

• The following letter has recently been sent to members of Congress by the Air Force Sergeants Association:

We need your help now. The Department of Defense has announced plans to drastically increase the cost of the military health care benefit, especially for military retirees, their family members, and survivors. The DoD plans are harming the morale of current service members who now say that DoD hasn’t kept the faith, although service members have given up much to defend this nation.

Apparently, this administration no longer considers itself a champion of funding for military quality-of-life programs, but rather a bottom-line business. In an orchestrated chorus, DoD officials and top military leaders have made identical comments that retirees and survivors cost too much. Our members have indicated that elected officials who do not immediately act to stop these DoD plans will not be supported in upcoming elections. …

Senator, those serving believe that military retirees and their survivors are extraordinary citizens. They should be given special regard, and the funding of their benefits should be a national priority. They have already paid an extraordinary price for this nation. I urge you to immediately and unequivocally speak out against these impending DoD changes. I ask for a response to this letter to share with our members so they know where you stand.

Very sincerely,

Richard M. Dean

executive director

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs has called for an urgent and better effort to help those returning from the war on terror find work.

The comments of Chairman Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, came at a recent hearing concerning the high unemployment rate for young veterans — those ages 20 to 24. Veterans in that age range now have an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent, nearly twice the rate of their non-veteran peers.

The numbers of young unemployed veterans has grown dramatically since the start of military operations in Afghanistan, and that trend prompted Mr. Craig to express frustration to the Department of Labor’s assistant secretary for veterans’ employment and training, Charles Ciccolella. His agency plans to provide $162 million in federal grants to state agencies this year to help veterans find work.

But while some private companies are doing more, all the witnesses at the Senate hearing pointed to a wide variety of changes in government policies that might help.

“These rising unemployment numbers for these young veterans are startling, to say the least, and we are going to keep coming back at you again and again and again, until you either get it right or we fix it for you through legislation,” Mr. Craig 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 [email protected]bavf.org.

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