Military Update: More retirees could get payments for combat disabilities
May 24, 2003
Recent events show a war can be waged and won in less time than it takes the Defense Department to reach final decisions on how to implement the new Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC).
But if Defense officials are three weeks behind in finalizing rules and publishing CRSC applications, they also are adopting a more liberal interpretation of qualifying criteria than expected, sources said.
That means not 35,000 but 40,000 or more retirees could receive CRSC, with payments ranging for most of them from $104 to $2,193 a month, depending on severity of qualifying disabilities. Retiree drawing VA's special monthly compensation on top of regular disability pay could get more.
Payments will not be automatic. Retirees must apply, which explains why so many are impatient for details and application. By late May the application form, DD 2860, and other CRSC information will be available at: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/crsc/ and at base retired affairs offices.
Here is what is known so far about the program, drawn from Pentagon sources and a near-final draft of CRSC regulations obtained by www.crlegislation.com, a Web site by a group of disabled retired officers to keep visitors informed on CRSC and other "concurrent receipt" issues.
CRSC takes effect May 31. Payments for a small number of applicants still could begin as early as July. Most will start later, perhaps months later, but all payments for current retirees will be retroactive to June 1.
Active duty retirees must have served 20 years, which leaves out those who accepted early retirement. Reservists are eligible if they earned 7200 retirement points. That can't be done without a lot of active duty time. A typical reservist earns only 3000 to 4000 points before retirement.
CRSC is aimed at easing, for the most deserving retirees, the financial penalty of a ban on concurrent receipt of both retired pay and VA disability compensation. Retirees now see a drop in retired pay equal to any tax-free disability compensation received for service-connected injuries or illnesses.
CRSC will be paid to two groups of retirees. The first is Purple Heart Medal recipients whose combat wounds carry at least a 10 percent VA disability rating. Defense personnel records show at least 16,500 retirees in this category. Many more could surface in the application review process.
The second group has combat-related VA disabilities of 60 percent or higher. "Combat-related" is defined by CRSC law as resulting from one of four criteria: armed conflict, hazardous service, training for war or an instrumentality of war. Here's a snapshot of the disability criteria.
Wounds or illnesses from war, military occupation, raids or other combat contingencies. It also includes disabilities from time spent as a prisoner of war.
Injuries or illness from dangerous activities such as aerial flight, parachute duty, demolition duty or diving duty. Injuries while traveling to or from such duties would not qualify for CRSC.
Duty under conditions simulating warDisabilities from war games, exercises, weapons practice, hand-to-hand combat training, obstacle courses and more. It would not include injuries from jogging, calisthenics or organized sports. Aboard ship it might include injuries sustained in heavy seas but not every injury that occurs while deployed.
Instrumentality of war
Injuries or illness from tools of war such military vehicles or equipment mishaps or exposure to gases, fumes or chemical agents. Service officials, in reviewing applications, will accept VA presumptions of service-connection between exposure to Agent Orange, used to strip jungles in Vietnam, and certain cancers and other ailments.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also will count toward qualifying a retiree for CRSC if linked to one of the four combat-related criteria. PTSD from an off base fire or auto accident, for example, would not.
The CRSC application will ask retirees to explain what combat-related disabilities they have and how they got them. They also will be asked to provide supporting documents such as combat decorations or relevant pages from medical records or service records explaining the cause of injuries.
Applications must be mailed to a service address provided where a CRSC board or review group will screen it, and approve or reject it. Reviewing personnel will have ready access to VA and military records to verify applicant information but a backlog of applications is expected.
The boards will have to sort disabilities. Some found by the VA to be service-connected will not be "combat-related" under CRSC. If some disabilities qualify and others do not, qualifying disabilities will be recombined into a CRSC rating. If that total is 60 percent or more, CRSC can start.
The formula for combining disability ratings is the same as used by VA, multiplying whatever good function remains. For example, if a condition is rated 60 percent disabling, that leaves a retiree with 40 percent good function. If a second disability is 50 percent disabling, 50 percent good function remains.
A review board will multiply good function percentages, in this case 50 percent (0.5) by 40 percent (0.4), for a good function total of 20 percent. That would justify a combined disability rating of 80 percent, which would mean an extra $1,171 a month using current VA compensation rates.
Every applicant will get a letter explaining the size of their CRSC payment or why their application was rejected. They can appeal. Appeals likely will be handled by the office of the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness but that is detail under final review.
Defense officials will treat CRSC as tax exempt until told otherwise by the IRS. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service still can't say whether CRSC pay arrive as separate checks (or direct deposits) or be lumped with regular retired pay. But the law says CRSC should not be viewed as retired pay.
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