Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dad Gives Gus First Assignment - Combat Military Medically Retired Veterans Act

Bill would expand concurrent receipt
By Rick Maze Staff writer

Lawmakers wasted no time in introducing legislation to expand the so-called concurrent receipt payments of full disability and retired pay to veterans eligible for both payments.

One of the chief sponsors is a freshman representative, Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., whose father, Michael, had spent decades working on concurrent receipt legislation. Michael Bilirakis retired after 24 years in Congress, having succeeded in breaking the federal government's long-standing opposition to paying full military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation for the same period of service. His son, Gus, elected in November to fill his father's seat, introduced a bill Jan. 5 that would eliminate a phase-in period for concurrent receipt payments for veterans with noncombat disabilities.

Under current law, those with disabilities rated at 50 percent or more and whose injuries are not the result of combat or combat training won't receive full payments until Dec. 31, 2013. Additionally, current law continues to require a dollar-for-dollar offset in retired pay for anyone receiving veterans' disability compensation who has a service-connected, but noncombat, disability of less than 50 percent, or for those who didn't finish 20 years of service.

HR 303, called the Retired Pay Restoration Act, would make anyone who retired from the military, or was separated because of a service-connected disability, eligible to receive both disability compensation and full retired pay.

HR 243, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Ill., would allow people who retired from the military for combat-related disabilities and did not complete 20 years of service to receive both retired and disability pay. This would help those who received disability retirement from the military or who were retired under the early retirement plan used during the military drawdown of the 1990s.

"Once forced out of the service, many are unable to find gainful employment due to their injuries, while at the same time being rated less than their actual disability rate by the Department of Veterans Affairs," Weller said. "They have little to fall back on and deserve better for their sacrifice.

"Now, more than any time in recent history, it is important to remember that our nation has remained strong because of those who have fought and died for our country," said Weller, who sponsored similar legislation last year.

His bill, which he called the Combat Military Medically Retired Veterans Act, has a $496 million price tag over 10 years, which is part of the reason it has not passed. Weller, however, said the cost is "a small price to pay for those who have sacrificed so much."

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