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Congress to Seek Reform for Injured Vets

Government

Injured veteran | Image by Pixel-Shot

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) will push this year to ensure veterans and others injured on duty receive all the money to which they are entitled.

This could require changing the current policy, which does not allow the concurrent receipt of retirement and disability benefits by some military personnel with combat-related injuries.

Since 2004, veterans must have a disability rating of at least 50% to get their full military retirement pay and disability benefits simultaneously, which can add up to several thousand dollars each month. But vets with a disability rating of less than 50% get dollar-for-dollar offsets, and some people could lose several hundred dollars every month because of this.

Officials from the Wounded Warrior Project allege that the current policy hurts up to 50,000 medical retirees across the country.

The Major Richard Star Act (MRSA) is meant to fix this policy by “offsetting” the amount the VA takes out of a military retiree’s pay to cover their disability.

MRSA, named after an Army veteran who died in 2021 from cancer connected to burn pit exposure during his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, has bipartisan support but has not received unanimous congressional approval.

Jose Ramos, vice president of government and community relations for the Wounded Warrior Project, said that “even in a split Congress this should be an easy thing to get done.”

“[F]rankly, we’re penalizing those veterans,” Ramos claimed.

Timothy Borland, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, wrote to President Joe Biden on January 17, urging him to make the repeal of the policy prohibiting concurrent receipt of benefits a legislative priority.

“This policy is nothing more than a way to save money on the backs of veterans,” Borland wrote.

“The VFW — and by extension the entire veteran community — is looking to you, President Biden, to lead from the front on this issue, as you did with toxic exposure legislation,” he continued. “No veteran should question the value of their service to our country due to an unethical budget gimmick.”

“[MRSA] would provide full VA disability and DOD retirement payments to tens of thousands of veterans who were forced to retire early with combat-related injuries,” Tester told Military Times. “Though it has garnered a lot of support from both sides of the aisle, it needs to be a higher priority in both chambers if we’re going to get this bill across the finish line.”

What is holding back the passage of MRSA is how much it will cost, according to Military Times. Over the next decade, the bill would result in the government spending about $8 billion more of taxpayer money.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act), which was passed last year after a decade-long effort, should cost $280 billion over the same period.

The PACT Act funds research and provides expanded health care and benefits for roughly 3.5 million veterans who developed health problems following exposure to burn pits and other toxic compounds during their service.

Many veterans’ groups and lawmakers see the success of the PACT Act as a good sign for MRSA.

“I think there is an appetite to get this done now,” Ramos said. “It’s just a matter of how they account for it.”

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