Disabled military retirees deserve better

Some things just seem simple to me. Common sense. If you work hard, you realize the benefits. If you break the law, you suffer the consequences. If you drive through a stoplight, you can't act surprised when another car slams into yours.

And if you make a career of the military, and get injured in the process, you should be awarded full retirement pay and appropriate disability compensation. It shouldn't be one or the other. The military pension is a benefit you earned by doing a job well for a long time. VA disability compensation is provided to those whose ability to work is compromised due to military service. Some progress has been made to lift the ban on concurrent receipt - also known as the "disabled veterans tax" - which forces military retirees to pay for their own pensions with a dollar-for-dollar offset from their disability compensation.

Tell me how it makes sense that you should lose your pension because you got hurt? These men and women chose to make the military a career; they didn't choose to suffer an injury. In the private sector, a vested employee does not forfeit his or her pension when an injury causes him or her to go on disability.

Efforts to correct this discrepancy were on track after Jan. 1, 2004, when concurrent receipt of DoD retirement pay and VA disability was allowed for certain types of veterans. The plan was to incrementally phase in full concurrent receipt for all qualified military retirees over a 10‑year span, to be completed by Dec. 31, 2013. To be fair, this benefit must apply to all disabled military retirees, not just those who were wounded in combat or those with the highest disability ratings.

The recently introduced Retired Pay Restoration Act would permit additional service-connected military retirees to receive both their VA disability compensation and either retired pay - by reason of their years of military service - or Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). It also eliminates the current phase-in period.

The Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act would amend Title 10, U.S. Code, to permit service-connected military retirees rated at less than 50 percent to receive concurrent payment of both retired pay and VA disability compensation. It also eliminates the phase-in period and extends eligibility for concurrent receipt and CRSC to Chapter 61 disability retirees with less than 20 years of service.

The American Legion supports both bills and urges members to seek co-sponsorship from their congressional representatives.

A disability rating - whether 30 percent or 60 percent - represents a life-changing condition. That's why it is called a disability. A military career that justifies a pension on the basis of years served is an accomplishment our nation should honor and reward. They are separate issues, funded by separate budgets. The only reason the ban hasn't been lifted for all who are eligible is that the government would simply rather use the money for other purposes. And that's not good enough.