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In December 2002, a law took effect that made Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon J. Brymer of San Antonio, and perhaps 40,000 other military retirees, eligible to have lost retired pay restored, effective June 1, 2003.

Most of them had suffered serious combat-related injuries. When they received VA compensation for service-related conditions, they saw their military retirement reduced or stopped, the result of a law banning "concurrent receipt" of both full retired pay and VA compensation.

Brymer, who has diabetes and heart ailments from exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam, was glad to see Congress finally act to ease that ban. In January 2004, Congress tripled the number of retirees eligible to see retired pay restored under the same program, Combat-Related Special Compensation.

Today, 18 months after Congress created CRSC, Brymer and thousands of retirees suffering from serious combat ailments and injuries have yet to receive full CRSC. Brymer, 73, figures he is owed at least $18,000. The total rises monthly by about $1,400. What irks him more is the lack of official explanation for the delay. "Just tell me what's going on!" he said.In a Wednesday phone interview, officials at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Cleveland described a "mess" of administrative challenges to be addressed. They could not predict when these retirees, perhaps 10 to 15 percent of CRSC applicants, will see full monthly CRSC, or a catch-up payment for missed or partial CRSC payments as far back as June of last year.

The impacted retirees all have 20 or more years of service, and disabilities that the Department of Veterans Affairs decided makes them 100 percent "unemployable" or so severely handicapped that they qualify for Special Monthly Compensation atop regular VA disability pay.

Defense officials figured out how to pay CRSC to restore dollar-for-dollar offsets in retired pay caused by regular VA compensation tied to combat injuries.

But officials have not pinned down how to automate full CRSC for those who lose additional retired pay due to VA compensation paid for Individual Unemployability or as Special Monthly Compensation. This primarily affects officers and senior enlisted, those more likely to have retired pay remaining to offset when they became eligible for IU, SMC or both.

DFAS has had greater success launching Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments, also effective as of Jan. 1. Paid to retirees with disabilities rated 50 percent or higher, that may or may not be combat-related, it also restores lost retirement automatically, versus having to apply for CRSC. But it does so over 10 years, rather than immediately.]

CRSC "is a bit of expectation gone wrong," said Karen Bell, deputy program manager for DFAS retired and annuitant pay operations based in Cleveland. "People perceived that, as soon as we got the guidance from [the Office of Secretary of Defense in April], we would be able to pay." But that guidance, Bell said, "was still silent on a number of issues and didn't work out the technical processes."

Bell works for Lockheed Martin Corp., which got the contract to run retired pay operations for DFAS in January 2002, part of a wider government initiative to cut administrative costs with private contracts. Defense civilians maintain oversight and, in the same interview, offered assurances that DFAS is working with the VA, the services and policymakers on CRSC.

DFAS officials plan no mass mailings to explain CRSC delays but updates will be posted at www.dfas.mil. Retirees who receive service notification of CRSC approval, but aren't paid within 60 days, can call DFAS at: (800) 321-1080.

— To comment on this column, write Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, e-mail milupdate@aol.com or visit: www.militaryupdate.com


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