- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2008

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Last week, I heard from a reservist that those of us who separated from the military can recoup the money that was taken out of our salaries for our pensions during active duty. I was in the military — for two years in the Reserve from 1973 to 1975 followed by 12 years of active duty (six years in the Air Force, then another six years in the Army). I separated as a lieutenant colonel on Aug. 29, 1987. I tried looking this up and could not find anything on the Internet. Do you know if he is correct and, if so, where do I apply for this refund of the “annuity” withholding?


Michael S.

Dear Michael:

My sources tell me that you have been misinformed, because no funds are withheld from military salaries to later fund retirements; therefore, there is nothing to refund. Compensation is paid from annual appropriations. Unless a service member serves at least 20 years (active or reserve) or is disabled, there is no retirement pay.

Shaft notes

• Kudos to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for informing eligible disabled veterans of a significant benefits improvement. A change in the law now allows certain seriously injured veterans and service members to receive multiple grants for constructing or modifying homes.

Before the change, eligible veterans and service members could receive special adaptive housing grants of $10,000 or $50,000 from VA only once. Now they may use the benefit up to three times, so long as the total grants stay within specified limits outlined in the law.

“Veterans seriously disabled during their military service have earned this benefit,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake. “This change ensures that every eligible veteran and service member has the chance to use the maximum amount afforded to them by our grateful nation.”

To ensure all previous recipients are aware of this opportunity, VA has mailed more than 16,000 letters to eligible veterans, reaching out to those who used only a portion of their grant or who decided not to use the grant even after qualifying.

The response in the past year has been dramatic, with more than 4,600 applications received thus far. Of these, about 3,900 veterans have been determined eligible under the new law, and more than 200 grants already awarded.

VA has averaged about 1,000 adaptive housing grant applications per year during the past 10 years. Since the program began in 1948, it has provided more than $650 million in grants to about 34,000 seriously disabled veterans.

To ensure veterans’ and service members’ needs are met and grant money is spent properly, VA works closely throughout the entire process with contractors and architects to design, construct and modify homes that meet the individuals’ housing accessibility needs.

Eligible for the benefit are those with specific service-connected disabilities entitling them to VA compensation for a “permanent and total disability.” They may receive a grant to construct an adapted home or to modify an existing one to meet their special needs.

Other VA adaptive housing benefits are available through Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service’s Independent Living program, the Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance program and the Home Improvement and Structural Alterations grant.

For more information about grants and other adaptive housing programs, contact a local VA regional office at 1-800/827-1000 or local veterans service organization. Additional program information and grant applications (VAF-26-4555) can be found at www.homeloans.va.gov/sah .htm.

• About 600,000 cards and personal messages of support were shipped and delivered to service members at military hospitals across the country and at installations overseas this holiday season. This unique partnership between the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes brought the comfort of supportive messages and holiday cheer to wounded service men and women.

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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