- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

In one of your recent articles, “Mary K.” stated that “Twelve years into his retirement, he was granted a 40 percent service-connected disability … a portion of his retirement pay is now called disability pay, Apparently he did not qualify for additional monies, just a “renaming” of his retired pay.”

Your response was, “As I understand it, if the service member dies before his wife, her survivor benefit annuity is calculated on what his full retired pay would have been before any offset for VA disability compensation was taken.”

My question deals with the same thing, except my husband’s status was recently changed to a 70 percent disability, but unlike “Mary K.,” my husband’s benefits were increased and the increase was retroactive back to 2001, when he started collecting his retirement benefits. Therefore, my question is, “Since the increase was retroactive back to the beginning of his retirement, and he recently received a check for the back pay, and an increase in his monthly stipend, does my Survivor Benefit get calculated on the original amount or on the new retroactive amount?”

Gerri B.
Via the Internet

Dear Gerri:

SBP (Survivor Benefit Plan) is based upon a service member’s retired pay, NOT any VA disability benefits they may be awarded. The most his wife can receive from SBP is 55 percent of his Air Force retired pay. If part of his AF retired pay is waived to receive VA disability benefits, that doesn’t matter; upon the Master Sergeant’s death her SBP will be calculated based upon his full AF retired pay, before any offsets or waivers were deducted.

The wife might still be eligible for some VA benefits, but that is not part of SBP. SPB is run completely by the Department of Defense and is not impacted by VA awards. If the service member dies of a service-connected disability, the surviving spouse should apply to DFAS to receive her SBP benefits, and also apply to the VA for consideration of Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC). They are completely separate programs, just like retired pay and VA disability compensation for the service member. Hope this clarifies things.

Shaft notes

• The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a telephone service, Coaching into Care, to provide assistance to family members and friends trying to encourage their veteran to seek health care for possible readjustment and mental health issues.

“Those closest to veterans are often the first to recognize when veterans are having difficulties,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Family members and friends may not know what to say to encourage their veterans to seek much needed readjustment and health care. The Coaching into Care line will help them find the right words.”

To help veterans address problems and support Veterans in making decisions about getting care, the Coaching into Care program offers unlimited, free coaching with family members or friends over a series of telephone calls. The priority is connecting veterans with VA care in their community through the family member’s help and encouragement. Callers receive professional coaching on solving specific logistical obstacles and encouraging sometimes reluctant veterans to seek care while still respecting the veteran’s right to make personal decisions.

Coaching into Care, launched in March 2011, has had more than 650 calls with family members or friends of greater than 175 veterans to encourage them to seek care. This phone line is connected to VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, Caregiver Support Line, and the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans. This way, if the caller or veteran is in an immediate crisis, or has concerns regarding care giving for a disabled veteran, or seeking assistance regarding homelessness, there is no wrong number for families to call.

Callers can reach VA’s Coaching into Care program at the toll-free number 1-888-823-7458, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and online at https://www.mirecc.va.gov/coaching/. As always, veterans can reach immediate help at the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for veterans.

• The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs favorably reported seven pieces of legislation (H.R. 2433, as amended; H.R. 2646 as amended; H.R. 2302, as amended; H.R. 2349, as amended; H.R. 2074, as amended; H.R. 1025; and H.R. 1263, as amended) for full House consideration.

“Through the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act, we will create the most qualified, most skilled veteran workforce since World War II to compete in today’s tough job market,” stated Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-01), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “But as all Americans know, the government cannot create jobs. But what we can do is create the right environment for the economy to flourish. So, we owe it to our veterans to reduce the burden of overreaching regulations that encumber America’s small businesses, including our veteran-owned businesses, the engine of our economy. In other words, we need to get the government out of the way of the economy and get our veterans back to work, and I am confident we can do this through the VOW Act.”

The latest job figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that nearly 1 million veterans are currently unemployed, including more than 600,000 veterans of past eras and conflicts.

Also included in the legislation headed to the House is legislation to prevent sexual assault at VA facilities. The Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act is a result of a June GAO report which found that lack of reporting, security measures, and accountability lead to hundreds of patients and VA employees being left vulnerable to sexual assault.

“Our veterans come to VA seeking care and support and should not be left to fend for themselves when faced with assault,” Mr. Miller said. “As I have stated many times before, even one act of this nature, one sexual predator in VA’s system is absolutely unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.”

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 email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

• Sgt. Shaft can be reached at .

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