Veterans to Collect Both Full Retirement and Disability Benefits

Friday, October 17, 2003
Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer

News & Links

America's Veterans

Under pressure from veterans groups, the GOP leadership announced yesterday that it will allow more veterans to collect both full retirement and disability benefits, something they have been blocked from doing in the past.

Half a million veterans are affected by current law, under which retirees give up a dollar in retirement benefits for every dollar they get in disability compensation. Under the proposal, which would be phased in over 10 years, people whose disabilities are rated 50 percent or higher would be covered.

The proposal would cost $22 billion, and GOP leaders plan to attach it to the defense authorization bill. About 250,000 veterans would benefit from the change. "We've worked hard to fulfill our obligations to our veterans," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

The issue of "concurrent receipt" has been a hot political issue for months, as Democrats worked aggressively to woo the veteran vote. The Democrats have fought to force a House vote that would have eliminated the offset for all veterans, by collecting signatures for a "discharge petition," which requires 218 votes to bring up a bill on the House floor. The Democrats got 210 signatures, including two Republicans'. They have also traveled the country, holding events on the issue.

"I applaud the announcement today that the House Republican leadership has finally decided to do something about the unjust disabled veterans tax," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "It is an important first step, but it is not good enough. Republicans have put forward a deal that leaves far too many veterans behind."

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) was dismissive of Pelosi's criticism. "Nancy Pelosi wants the House back, and she's very partisan," he said.

Veterans would receive different payments according to their disabilities. Under the plan, veterans with total disability would receive $750 a month toward their lost retirement pay, while those who are 50 percent disabled would receive $100 per month.

The legislative language, which key GOP senators have endorsed as well, would also establish a bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to review the current system and make sure veterans are adequately compensated.

Representatives from several veterans groups attended a celebratory news conference, praising GOP lawmakers for striking a deal.

"This is a gratifying victory for disabled retirees," said retired Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of Military Officers Association of America, the nation's largest veterans organization for active duty and retired military officers. "MOAA is extremely pleased that years of lobbying efforts paid off to help deserving servicemen and women."

Lawmakers acknowledged they did not go as far as they had wanted to, but attributed it to a question of finances. Blunt said it would take $67 billion to cover all disabled veterans.