Senator John Warner
United States Senate
225 The Russell Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Restoration of Military Retired Pay for Disabled Veterans
Dear Honorable Senator Warner:
I correspond with you regarding the above captioned subject. First, let me express sincere thanks on behalf of America's veterans; past, present and future for your leadership that resulted in last year's compromise legislation - Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC).
This initiative however, has been problematic even to those small numbers of veterans who qualify for the benefit. It is reported that the Senate and the House of Representatives are preparing to move into conference discussions on H.R. 1588 the Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2004. I would hope that it has become apparent to the Members of Congress that while a noble and welcome gesture, CRSC has devolved into maze of indecisiveness.
To date, the individual services have received approximately 35,000 applications for this program. To date, the individual services have approved and began payment to only 350 veterans. Reports of persons close to the issue reveal a consensus say the major obstacle is with guidance received from the Department of Defense (DoD) regarding claim processing. The U.S. Army in particular contracted with a civilian service to process claims from their retirees. It seems rather wasteful to disabled retirees to spend money on a civilian contractor and say out the other side of the mouth that true Restoration of Retired Pay "costs too much."
Due to the continued resistance of Administration functionaries it should be apparent that the best, most equitable remedy would be to repeal the Special Compensation Acts, CRSC and SCSD (Special Compensation for the Severely Disabled) and pass the provisions of HR 1588 Section 644 that calls for full restoration for the nations disabled military retirees.
It was widely known that before the inception of this program, Administration officials at DoD did not support any effort to pay disabled veterans military retirement they had earned. As a matter of fact, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, David S.C. Chu, Ph.D., went on record many times saying that America's disabled retirees, were better off than the average American. How could Mr. Chu even begin to think that having sometimes-fatal illnesses and crippling injuries could make someone better off than the average American?
Mr. Chu's office is the same that the services are citing as being cryptic in their instructions and demanding supporting evidence that we both know may or may not even exist. Title 38 of the United States Code, which governs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its' associated regulation, 38 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) recognize this and provide for a liberalization of requirements. They provide veterans with the "Benefit of the Doubt", (38 USC 5107(b); 38 CFR 3.102(a)). The wise men that wrote these laws recognized that during the course of military operations medical records often times are not prepared and/or are lost or destroyed. It was I believe their intention to err on the side of justice rather than deprive any veteran of deserved compensation. Additionally, these premises have been upheld and emphasized by our Courts in precedent setting rulings.
This is not the policy of the DoD in regards to granting entitlement to CRSC. The requirements they have placed on the veteran are capricious and calculated to ensure a denial of benefits. There are requirements for veterans to submit Service Medical Records and VA Rating Decision documents that veterans do not have routine access to. The DoD also requires the veteran to document the Diagnostic Codes by which the VA has granted service connection for disabilities, information that the veteran has heretofore never been provided and often times does not understand. Again, it is the belief of military retirees that the program you devised to help provide relief on this issue is not the program being administrated by DoD.
We disabled military retirees understand that funding is tight; but in light of the current spending initiatives and what many Americans feel is fiscal irresponsibility by the Bush Administration the amount to restore retirement pay for disabled veterans pales in contrast to projected outlays.
Cannot Congress find a way to provide military retirees with the monetary retirement benefits they earned through dedicated and arduous service to this great nation? Cannot the provisions of S.392 sponsored by your colleague the Honorable Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, be passed, even if the full effect of restoration were not to be immediate? Cannot this legislation be passed with a 'ramp-up' over a three-year period? Within that amount of time, the President has said the economy will be back on track and this terrible deficit would be corrected. Full restoration could be passed and phased in over a three-year period and every disabled military retiree would then understand that the promises made by the current majority actually meant something and were not just a ploy to garner votes.
Senator, while I may not be a constituent of the Great State of Virginia, as the Senior Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I feel I have the right to address these matters with you as they affect the lives of the 600,000 disabled military retirees nationwide. Again, I express sincere appreciation for your efforts in securing CRSC, but believe your efforts were for naught as the DoD has written regulations that make it improbable if not near impossible for those without the Purple Heart Medal to qualify for.
Please consider what I have said herein today and please support the provisions of S. 392, "The Military Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2003" (Sect. 644, HR 1588 ) during the conference to resolve these matters.