Military Update: Clarifying concurrent receipt gains
Special to Stars and Stripes
The best guess now is that 225,000 military retirees with disabilities will see larger annuity checks, starting in January, under the “concurrent receipt” deal struck between the White House and Republican leaders.
New estimates by the Congressional Budget Office on the number of retirees who will see income gains also show them divided, almost in half, between those who might qualify immediately for tax-free combat-related pay and those with noncombat disabilities serious enough to have their retired pay restored over the next decade.
Legislative language that shapes the deal also clarifies what levels of retired pay will be restored, and when, as Congress moves to include the $22.1 billion, 10-year initiative in the 2004 defense authorization bill.
Here are key details that have surfaced in the past week:
Combat-related special compensation
As many as 107,000 more retirees could be eligible for tax-free combat-related special compensation payments for combat-related disabilities as low as 10 percent. This is in addition to the 35,000 expected to qualify for combat-related special compensation under more restrictive criteria passed last year.
The first combat-related special compensation program requires applicants to have Purple Heart Medals for war wounds or “combat-related” disabilities rated 60 percent or higher. Combat-related special compensation applications to date are nearing 30,000. Only about 2,000 have been approved and as many rejected. Payments, which match retired pay reductions tied to these disabilities, are to be retroactive to June 1.
In January, combat-related special compensation will expand to include all retirees with 20 or more years’ service and combat-related disabilities, regardless of severity. “Combat related” means from armed conflict, combat training, hazardous duty or an “instrumentality of war” such as exposure to Agent Orange.
Screening of applications, which already averages several months, likely will slow more. Payments under the expanded program will be made retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004. Applicants eligible under the more stringent standards will continue to see checks retroactive to June 1, 2003.
Servicemembers who retired with 15 to 19 years of service under Temporary Early Retirement Authority, offered during the post-Cold War drawdown, will not be eligible for combat-related special compensation.
Limited concurrent receipt
One hundred fifteen-thousand retirees will see a 10-year phase-in of full retired pay, now offset by VA compensation, but only if they have disability ratings of 50 percent or higher. Temporary Early Retirement Authority retirees are eligible.
Retired pay will be restored automatically; retirees need not apply. In 2004, first year of the phase in, restored amounts will range from $750 a month for 100 percent disabled to $100 for 50 percent. What retired pay offsets remain will drop another 10 percent in 2005, 20 percent in 2006, 30 percent in 2007 and so on until the offset is gone after 2013.
How the phase-in is handled for persons who retire after it begins is still under discussion. One idea is to set retired pay offsets for new retirees with disabilities equal to whatever offsets remain for current retirees who have the same level of disability.
The legislation will order an annual open season for retirees who are eligible for either CRSC or concurrent receipt to switch between plans if they can gain a financial advantage based on new disability ratings, tax exposure or other factors.
Retirees left out
More than 300,000 career military retirees who receive VA compensation have disabilities rated below 50 percent and that also are noncombat-related. They will continue to see retired pay reduced by an amount to match their disability compensation.
Many more thousands have left service short of 20 years, either because of combat wounds or service-connected injuries or illnesses. Many of these veterans, who also view themselves as “disabled retirees,” are critical of the concurrent receipt deal.
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