Military Update: New rules, application near for combat-related disabled
Retired Army 1st Sgt. Arthur Thornburgh of Ewell, Ala., figures the Department of Defense owes him $20,000 so far in Combat-Related Special Compensation.
The missing payments, he said with evident frustration, go back to June 1, 2003, the day he applied and also the day the CRSC program began.
Thornburgh, a former helicopter crew chief who survived several combat tours in Vietnam, did receive notice March 23 that he is eligible for tax-free CRSC, based on his 70 percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But after nine months, he still must wait to learn officially whether his CRSC will reflect his VA 100 percent “unemployable” rating, which would double the size of his tax-free CRSC payment to more than $2,200 a month.
Thornburgh, 68, and thousands of retirees with 20 or more years of service and severe disabilities, have seen long waits for CRSC decisions. Particularly frustrating has been absent Defense Department guidance on CRSC for retirees deemed to be unemployable (IU) or eligible for VA’s Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) for severely debilitating injuries or illnesses.
Their concerns may be eased this month. Defense officials have promised within weeks to publish long-awaited guidance on IU and SMC. Also on the way, four months behind schedule, is a new CRSC application for an expanded pool of eligible retirees, those with 20 years of service, active or reserve, and combat-related disabilities as low as 10 percent.
Service officials say lack of SMC guidance and a new CRSC application not only have frustrated applicants but have stunted what they expected would be a tidal wave of new applicants in early 2004.
“There are 500,000 Army veterans with VA-rated injuries that could be eligible for CRSC under one of the four scenarios: direct combat, instrumentality of war, simulating war (training), and hazardous duty,” said Col. John Sackett, chief of the CRSC Branch in the Army Human Resources Command based in Alexandria, Va. “We’ve only received 25,000 to date.”
The Air Force also expected a flood, and hasn’t seen it.
“We anticipated somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 folks would apply based on the new criteria,” said Col. Gary Cook, president of the Air Force Informal Physical Evaluation Board. The Air Force has received 10,300 applications, most of them logged in before Jan. 1. That Army total also includes applications back through June.
Air Force CRSC expert Kathy Garfield said the service has been encouraging retirees for months to use the old CRSC application if they don’t want to wait for the new one. They simply can ignore, or amend by hand, references to the now outdated “60 percent” disability threshold.
“Our biggest priority,” added Cook, “is to find people who are eligible and get them compensated.”
Army and Air Force officials said thousands of applications are awaiting that guidance for final processing. The Air Force has 2,200 SMC and 1,300 IU decision “ready to go once we get the final guidance from DOD,” Cook said. Sackett said the Army has 2,500 SMC decisions pending for the same reason.
Navy officials, who declined to be interviewed, solve a 800-plus backlog of SMC applications by applying draft program guidance, with fingers crossed that they got it right.
Win Reither, a retired officer who monitors CRSC for his Web site, www.crlegislation.com, says the great challenge ahead is “to avoid the coming train wreck of 150,000 CRSC applications this year.”
The services have processed only 24,000 applications of 43,000 received since June. The tidal wave looms.