WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans announced a $22 billion plan
yesterday to partially overturn a 19th-century policy depriving
disabled veterans of some retirement pay.
For veterans groups who have spent years pushing for the change,
it was a long anticipated, if not fully satisfying victory.
“We’ve worked hard to begin this process of fulfilling our
obligations to our veterans,” said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt
(R-Mo.), a participant in weeks of negotiations to work out a
compromise acceptable to the White House and GOP congressional
The plan, to be phased in over 10 years, would mean greater
benefits for about 245,000 disabled veterans, nearly half of those
who see their retirement benefits reduced or eliminated under
The measure is now part of a defense bill, though it could shift
to different legislation if the defense measure is stalled by other
disputes, Blunt said.
Under an 1890 law aimed at Civil War veterans, retirees’
retirement pay is reduced $1 for every dollar in disability
compensation they receive. For years, veterans and their many
allies in Congress have pushed to change this, but made little
headway because of the cost, commonly put at about $58 billion over
This year, with wounded military personnel returning from Iraq,
the pressure for action has increased.
Under the compromise, veterans with a service-connected
disability rated 50 percent or higher by the Veterans Affairs
Department would get their full retirement pay after 10 years.
VA disability rates run from a tax-free $633 a month for those
with a 50 percent disability to $2,193 for someone with 100 percent
disability. Under the phase in, the 50 percent disabled person
would get $100 a month effective Jan. 1, 2004, and the totally
disabled person $750 toward their lost retirement pay.
Purple Heart veterans – those hit by enemy fire – and others
with combat-related disabilities would get full benefits.
Reservists and National Guard members would be eligible for this
The plan sets up a commission to review the current VA
disability system to ensure it is equitable.
“It doesn’t solve the whole problem, but it is a giant step that
will provide substantial relief for the most severely disabled and
combat-wounded retirees,” said Norb Ryan, retired Navy vice admiral
and president of the Military Officers Association of America.”
“This is a move forward,” said Joe Violante, national
legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans. “But it
certainly is not everything and we’re not going to give up the
fight for those veterans that have not been included.”
American Legion National Commander John Brieden said the
nation’s largest veterans group “will accept nothing less” than
full benefits. “Just compensation for service-disabled military
retirees should be no less a priority than rebuilding Iraq,” he
Democrats have charged the White House and GOP leaders with
shortchanging veterans while waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq,
and were critical of the compromise.
“Republicans have put forward a deal that leaves far too many
veterans behind,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of
California, adding that Democrats forced Republicans to act.
“Democrats made this issue too hot for Republicans to handle.”
Republicans in turn said Democrats had done nothing on the issue
in the four decades they controlled the House before 1995.
“This has been around for a century, and yet only now, at this
hour, do we have a significant and … historic conclusion to this
problem,” said Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-FL), the lead proponent on the issue
since he first introduced legislation 18 years ago, said, “We
didn’t think it’s enough either, but it’s a heck of a lot more than
we’ve ever seen before.”