Fate of retirees’ compensation still up in air

By Tom Philpott

More than 670,000 military retirees with VA-rated disabilities are ineligible for the new Combat-Related Special Compensation. Many wonder whether CRSC truly is a beachhead in battle for “concurrent receipt” of full retired and VA disability compensation, or the end of the line on this issue.
That will depend on whether lawmakers vowing their support are sincere or pretenders. In the wake of CRSC, the signals are mixed.
Few members of Congress oppose legislation that would end for retirees with service-connected disabilities an offset of retired pay that occurs when they draw tax-free VA compensation. And Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., have been champions of the cause.
Bilirakis again this year introduced the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 303) which would end the ban on concurrent receipt for all retirees with VA disabilities. So far it has 341 co-sponsors. Last year it had more than 400.
Reid again intimidated Senate colleagues to insert a similar language in the defense authorization bill. Like last year, however, it is unfunded.
Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., a House freshman and disabled Vietnam veteran, is trying a new approach: a discharge petition to force HR 303 out of the armed services committee for a floor vote. He needs 218 signatures. As of Wednesday, he had 193, but only one Republican, Tom Tancredo of Colorado.
Even HR 303’s author, Bilirakis, has not signed it. An aide said he would prefer to try to work with his House leaders, to press them to support the Senate position during negotiations over the defense bill.
Passage of CRSC clearly drained energy from the issue. Roughly 35,000 retirees with combat and combat-training disabilities will receive from $104 to $2,193 more a month. Gone will be examples of persons scarred by war and, in effect, paying for their disabilities through reduced retired pay.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) in a June 4 report on military retirement issues, said action on concurrent receipt in the 108th Congress, which runs through next year, “now seems unlikely.”
The big obstacles are the cost and, frankly, a softening of certainty that the remaining 670,000 retirees have been wronged.
On cost, estimates on CRSC runs from $270 million to $600 million a year. Full concurrent receipt would cost roughly 10 times as much, perhaps $5 billion a year, according to congressional analysts.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:
milupdate@aol.com