Military Connection: The Veteran Benefits Debate: By Joe Silva

disabled VetsA congressional auditor’s report found that close to 60,000 Veterans are receiving benefits from three separate government entities … and they are within their legal rights.

The Government Accountability Office report found that these “triple dippers” drew around $3.5 billion between military retirement pay, disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security disability compensation.

Most of the recipients received combined benefits of $59,000 per year or less. But approximately 2,300 of these Veterans were in receipt of combined totals of $100,000 or more. The highest payment in 2013 was $208,757 in total benefits!

The permitting of “triple dipping” has caused multiple law makers to call for better coordination among government programs. While not taking away anything that Veterans deserved or have earned through faithful service to their country, they want to find a way to streamline programs.

But those who side with Veterans claim that Veterans are entitled to these payments and concurrent benefits. The argument made is that the Veterans’ retirement pay was earned through years of service in the military, while disability payments are compensation for service-related injuries and wounds; and the two and their compensation should have no effect on the other. In most of these rare cases of “triple dipping,” the Veterans are severely disabled. Approximately four in five Veterans who got triple concurrent payments had a disability rating of at least 50%. And around half of the Veterans receiving triple payments were at least 60% disabled.

Many Americans would find it hard to understand how someone making $86,000 a year in tax-exempt VA income could qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance, when civilian workers are disqualified from the program if they make $13,000 a year. And while politicians and the judging-public zoom in on the $59,000 and $100,000 facts, there is one fact that gets forgotten. With these Veterans being mostly 50% or more disabled, their cost of living goes up tremendously. Even with VA healthcare, there are other lifestyle accommodations that need to be made including modifying their homes and vehicles for their disability.

It wasn’t until after the Sept. 11th attacks that Veterans were allowed to concurrently receive both military retirement pay and Department of Veterans Affairs’ disability benefits. Before that, a Civil War-era statute allowed the Pentagon to dock retirement pay dollar-for-dollar up to the amount of disability benefits from the VA.

Congress changed that law in 2002, restoring military retirement pay to Veterans who were also drawing disability benefits from the VA.  When the bill was being debated, then-Senator John Warner from Virginia presented two questions to his fellow senators:

“How can we ask the men and women who have so faithfully served to sacrifice a portion of their retirement because they are also receiving compensation for an injury suffered while serving their country?”

At the time, Sen. Warner acknowledged that allowing Veterans to receive concurrent benefits would have “significant cost,” but Warner also asked; “Is the cost too high? I think not.”

It appears that twelve and a half years later, all of which was spent at war, politicians and the American public might need to reconsider these questions for our now-disabled Veterans.

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Military Connection: The Veteran Benefits Debate: By Joe Silva