- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I heard something about legislation in the pipeline to get rid of the offset for veterans who are less than 50 percent disabled. For those who may not know, currently those of us who get veterans compensation for service-connected disabilities get that amount deducted from our military retired pay. If you are 50 percent or more disabled, you are not subject to the offset. This seems unfair on the face of it. Do you know the reasoning behind it? And is it possible that lawmakers may change this inequity in the near future?

I think I can speak for many of my fellow veterans when I say thanks for all you do. You do a great service for us!

John Pl

Master sergeant, retired

Dear John

When I shared your concerns with my friends at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), their response was the following:

As you know, MOAA and the Military Coalition have been fighting for decades to eliminate the deduction of Veterans Affairs disability compensation for all disabled military retirees, regardless of disability rating percentage.

Our strongly held view is that military retirees earned their full retired pay through their decades of service and sacrifice, and that if they have the misfortune to become disabled because of a service-caused condition, the disability compensation they receive from the VA should be added to their earned retired pay, not subtracted from it.

The law is the way it is (some disabled retirees are exempt from the offset, and some aren’t) because Congress couldn’t come up with the money to eliminate the offset for all retirees and have been phasing it out over time for successive groups, starting with those most severely disabled (50 percent or higher rating) and those whose disabilities were incurred in the course of combat or other military operations.

MOAA and the coalition have fought every year to continue progress toward elimination of the offset for all disabled retirees - the rationale being that a retiree with a 40 percent disability (which could include loss of a limb) earned his or her retired pay by service no less than one who is 50 percent disabled.

The basic question is: did they earn their retired pay through service alone, or not? Clearly the answer is “yes,” regardless of the degree of service-caused disability.

This year, we were gratified that President Obama became the first-ever commander in chief to include a proposal on this topic in the defense budget. His FY2010 budget request would take another step by phasing out the offset over five years for all who were disabled under Chapter 61 of Title 10, United States Code - that is, those who incurred disabilities while on active duty that were so significant that they had to be medically retired.

The House version of the FY2010 Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 2647) includes that initiative. Here’s how it would work if House and Senate leaders agree to retain it in the final defense bill:

On Jan. 1, 2010, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 90 percent or 100 percent, or who are deemed “unemployable” by the VA, would become eligible.

On Jan. 1, 2011, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 70 percent or 80 percent become eligible.

On Jan. 1, 2012, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 50 percent or 60 percent become eligible.

On Jan. 1, 2013, Chapter 61 retirees with a VA rating of either 30 percent or 40 percent will become eligible.

On Jan. 1, 2014, Chapter 61 retirees with any VA rating become eligible.

The one caveat is that House leaders were able to identify funding only for the first increment in 2010. We’re counting on Hill leaders to identify the rest of the funding before finishing action on the defense bill later this year.

If this is approved, it would leave only one group of disabled retirees still subject to the offset: those who did not receive medical retirements, but who were subsequently awarded a service-caused disability rating of 10 percent to 40 percent by the VA after completing 20 or more years of service.

Were encouraged by the legislative progress achieved so far (even though its come more slowly than we had hoped), and believe more than ever in our cause to win elimination of the offset for this last group of disabled retirees. We wont stop until that goal is accomplished.

Those who want to help our effort should contact their legislators and urge them to retain the House-passed concurrent receipt provision (section 121 of Section D of H.R. 2647) in the final Defense Authorization Act.

Shaft notes

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs is taking steps to assist veterans seeking compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The VA is publishing a proposed regulation in the Federal Register to make it easier for a veteran to claim service connection for PTSD by reducing the evidence needed if the stressor claimed by a veteran is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Under the new rule, VA would not require corroboration of a stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the stressful experience recalled by a veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the veteran’s symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.

The department also has established a suicide prevention help line (800/273-TALK) and Web site available for online chat in the evenings at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/veterans.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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