Bill would dramatically increase retirement benefits for 42,000 veterans

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A measure just reintroduced in the Senate would significantly increase disability benefits for combat-injured veterans.

The Major Richard Star Act would allow veterans who served less than 20 years before being medically retired due to combat-related injuries to receive both a disability award and a retirement award. complete. Currently, only retired military personnel with at least 20 years of service and a disability rating of at least 50% can receive both benefits in full.

Under current law, an estimated 42,000 retirees are not eligible for concurrent benefits. Their retirement compensation is reduced by the amount of disability compensation they receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation would remove limits on the level of disability covered, which could dramatically increase government costs with full retirement pay for all these veterans.

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“When it comes to our nation’s disabled veterans, we need to cut down on the bureaucratic red tape that prevents them from getting all the benefits they’ve earned,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana who chairs the Senate veterans commission. , said in a statement.

He added that the measure “would remedy the unfair compensation that prevents thousands of veterans living with war wounds from accessing both their disability benefits and their retirement pay.”

Despite support from both houses of Congress, the bill was not passed last year and had to be reintroduced after the new Congress was sworn in. It also enjoys wide support among veterans service organizations.

“The retirement pay and the VA disability pay are fundamentally different benefits, granted for different reasons,” VFW national commander William “Doc” Schmitz said in a statement last year. “To deny the retirement pension earned to veterans who unfortunately took early medical retirement due to injuries or illnesses suffered on the battlefield is an absolute injustice that must end now. “

The bill’s namesake, Major Richard Star, was a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He served as a combat engineer and died in February, according to the Military Officers Association of America. Star was medically removed after an injury while on duty and died of metastatic lung cancer after being exposed to burn foci overseas. He advocated for veterans to receive full retirement and disability compensation after learning his salary would be compensated. His wife quit her job to take care of him and depended on this salary.

“Major Richard Star inspired Veterans across the country as he embarked on this selfless journey to ensure all military families are taken care of,” said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins , President and CEO of MOAA, in a press release. “He deserved his rest and now it’s our turn. We will honor his legacy by continuing to fight for a simultaneous receipt for all service members.”

– Steve Beynon can be contacted at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: 30 years after the Gulf War: veterans and the legacy of toxic injuries

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