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War Vets Fighting Mad About Disability Benefits

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    War Vets Fighting Mad About Disability Benefits

    War Vets Fighting Mad About Disability Benefits
    Story by Kim Bowman Posted 10/18/02 6:40:49 PM

    Congress is considering changing a law that dates back more than 100 years, but the White House calls that fiscally irresponsible. At issue, are the benefits disabled veterans receive.

    The Senate passed a bill to pay for defense programs next year, and agreed to use some of that money to also give disabled veterans disability benefits. To this point, disabled veterans only received retirement benefits. The Bush Administration says authorizing the disability benefits, at this point, is too expensive, when the defense budget is so important. Legislators recessed, which means the issue won't be settled, until after the election.

    Some members of Congress say the issue was tabled, so that those running for office could "save face", and not have to vote against their President before the election. This is yet another reason why many veterans say they're are upset over the issue.

    There are more than 24,000 veterans now living in Arkansas. Regardless if they retired healthy, or wounded, many say they're tired of fighting this battle over benefits.

    Bob Pucik served 21 years in the Air Force, "I went to Vietnam, spent a tour over there."

    He spent nine more years flying commercial cargo, then was grounded because of an irregular heartbeat. "Because of that, I couldn't fly, couldn't get my medical certificate back."

    Now, his current call of duty: helping career military disabled veterans collect disability benefits. "I see a lot of veterans that come in here that are really kind of hurting."

    Pucik continues to work, because he can't collect retirement and disability pay, which many veterans say is an injustice. "We're going to get madder than a bunch of hornets, before it's over", explains Nick Bacon, the Director of Veterans' Affairs.

    Their 100-year-old complaint: they say if a postal worker is bitten by a dog, retires, then collects disability pay -- as all other federal employees can -- then, why can't the men and women fighting for our freedom do the same? But, until the bill is passed, Pucik and other veterans will not hang up the issue. "There's overwhelming support in the House and the Senate for this priority", Congressman Vic Snyder, a Vietnam veteran, tells News 4 Arkansas.

    Now, some veterans say this issue would have helped them decide who to vote for in November, but since Congress is out until after the elections, they're not sure who to support.

    Watch KARK News 4 for more on this story!

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    "Events in our past seem to slip further away with time. But what happens when they circle back and meet us head the present? Before we allow ourselves to be consumed by our regrets, we should remember the mistakes we make in life are not so important as the lessons we draw from them.." Outer Limits(Last supper)

    House, Senate at odds over vets' disability pay

    House, Senate at odds over vets' disability pay

    Tom Philpott
    Military Update

    Encouraged by the White House and using a political strategy devised by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have refused to negotiate with Senate colleagues over the contentious issue of allowing disabled veterans to also collect retirement pay.
    The impasse will last at least a week or two beyond Nov. 5, Election Day, and possibly until next year, keeping many retirees with disabilities in the dark over the size of future retirement checks.

    The 110-year-old ban prevents military retirees from receiving both full retired pay, for 20 or more years of service, and tax-free disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, for injuries or ailments tied to time in service. Retired pay must be offset, dollar for dollar, by the amount they draw in VA disability compensation.

    The Senate voted this year to lift the ban entirely and immediately, but it failed to fund such a change. The House funded a more modest proposal to restore full retired pay over five years but only for the seriously disabled, that is, retirees with VA disability ratings of 60 percent or higher.

    President Bush, through top aides, threatens to veto the defense authorization bill if it includes any change to the ban. To avoid such a showdown, and the image of Bush nose-to-nose with angry retired veterans while he readies the current force for war with Iraq, House Republicans decided to ice the defense authorization bill until after the election. On Oct. 16, with the ban the only issue blocking the authorization bill, House Republicans failed to show for a final meeting.

    "I want to put it very clearly," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in a floor speech later that day. "The veterans of this country ... are going to be denied concurrent receipt because of the instructions from the White House staff and (from) President Bush."

    Most of the cost, $18 billion over 10 years under the House plan and up to $60 billion under the Senate's, would be borne by the Defense Department. But if just the House proposal is approved, he said, VA's budget would need to rise by $124 million a year to cover higher claim processing costs and added benefits from a flood of new claims. That's because retirees who are not enticed by tax breaks alone to file a VA claim will be enticed by concurrent receipt, with the potential for substantial gains in retirement income.

    Home sales

    The House has watered down, and returned to the Senate for final action, a package of tax breaks for service members.

    One key provision that survived recent House action would give military members and Foreign Service officers the same tax breaks as other U.S. homeowners on profits from sale of their homes. More importantly, for some, tax breaks would be applied retroactively to home sales since May 1997, when housing tax breaks were enhanced but not for service members.

    Individuals can exclude from taxes up to $250,000 ($500,000 for joint returns) in gains from the sale of their principal residence. The taxpayer must live in the home for two of the last five years but military people and Foreign Service officers can ignore the five-year rule for up to five years.

    To qualify, homeowners also must be assigned at least 150 miles from home and for at least 180 days.

    The House did not accept the Senate's call for new tax exclusions on travel expenses for reservists and National Guard members, which would have given them $788 million in added tax benefits over the next decade.

    It's unclear when the Senate will give final approval for the tax-break initiative. Even watered down, many senators want it, staff said.

    "We're going to do everything we can to get this through," said Michael Siegel, press aide to the Senate Finance Committee. "But it truly is unfortunate that the House saw fit to remove some very key provisions."

    Comments and suggestions are welcomed. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, or send e-mail to

    This story can be found at:

    "Events in our past seem to slip further away with time. But what happens when they circle back and meet us head the present? Before we allow ourselves to be consumed by our regrets, we should remember the mistakes we make in life are not so important as the lessons we draw from them.." Outer Limits(Last supper)