Veterans and lawmakers are hoping to breathe new life into a stalled effort to put more money in the pockets of retired members of the armed forces who suffered injuries during their time in the military. The “Retired Pay Restoration Act” was introduced almost a year ago, but it has yet to move out of a congressional subcommittee.
The bill would change a long-running source of frustration for many veterans who receive both a disability benefit from the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as their military retirement pay. Currently, veterans whose service-related disability is rated at less than 50 percent have the amount of their benefit subtracted from what they receive in retirement.
Veteran Terry Sullivan, 62, of St. Paul, said he only learned of the issue after he qualified for retirement on his 60th birthday. His monthly disability check of about $280 is now deducted from his retirement pay.
“It was a slap in the face,” Sullivan said. “To me, it sounded like we were paying for our own injuries.”
Sullivan, who was a Navy reservist for more than 17 years, qualified for disability pay after suffering a back injury and hearing loss during combat training. “I just don’t feel that it’s right, and I think there’s a lot of people in the same situation,” he said.
The current House bill has been gaining support among both Republicans and Democrats, racking up 101 co-sponsors, including four from Minnesota.
“This is a nonpartisan issue. This is something that people should agree on,” said Congressman Tom Emmer, a Republican representing Minnesota’s 6th District. “What we believe is, once you’ve served, you’ve earned your retirement benefits. If you then have a disability related to your service, that goes over and above the original benefits that you earned through your service.”
By some estimates, a change in the law could affect 550,000 military retirees eligible to receive both military retired pay and VA disability compensation. One sampling of cases found those benefits ranged from $19,210 to $152,719 a year.