By Debbie Gregory.
From 2010 to 2015, the Department of Veteran Affairs has taken almost half a billion dollars in military separation pay back from disabled veterans. Why? Two words- double dipping.
Close to 25,000 veterans were penalized as a result of a decades old federal law that bans the “double dipping” of government benefits.
Years after the military ramped up its force size for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as those conflicts wound down and budget sequestration kicked in, many service members were forced out of the military due to downsizing, and they got a nasty shock when they received a disability rating from the VA.
Servicemembers who accepted military separation pay will have to pay that money back to the VA if they later apply for disability compensation. Once their severance is fully repaid, usually through monthly withholdings, they can collect full disability payments.
In a letter, the VA’s Office of General Counsel offered little defense of that long-standing practice:
“Neither the statutory text nor the legislative history… provides clear insight into the ‘why’ behind the requirement that separation pay must be recouped from VA disability benefits.”
There are some veterans who have succeeded in appealing their recoupment rates by contacting their elected representatives. Often times, if you take your problem to your local congressperson, they can help you navigate the government red tape.
“There is a promise between the American public, the American taxpayer, and military service members, when they go in, when they serve and when they get out, they’ll have this support, and in my view, the federal government and the Congress are violating this contractual obligation,” said Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of California.
DeSaulnier would like to pass legislation to stop the recoupments, but finding funds to pay for it has stalled those plans in Congress.