Correcting benefits for medically retired vets a ‘top priority’ for Senate VA Committee, Tester vows
Stars and Stripes March 1, 2023
This will be the year that the law is changed to allow all medically retired veterans to receive full retirement and disability checks — not just veterans with more than 20 years of service, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., vowed Tuesday.
“This is a top priority for nearly every veterans service group,” Tester, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said during a news conference about the bill known as the Maj. Richard Star Act. “We’ll take our marching orders from them. They're the folks that served.”
The Star Act, which was first introduced in 2021, would allow veterans who were forced to retire for medical reasons prior to reaching 20 years of service to be eligible to receive full benefit payments from their Defense Department retirement and Department of Veterans Affairs disability.
The law now requires a veteran’s retirement check be reduced based on the amount of his or her disability payment. This is known in government as concurrent receipt. A 2004 change to the law allowed for veterans with a disability rating more than 50% and more than 20 years of service to receive the full amount of both payments.
More than 50,000 combat-injured veterans would benefit from the Star Act, if it passed, according to the Military Officers Association of America.
Tester reintroduced the bill Feb. 9 with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and they have collected 49 cosponsors for the bill.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., introduced the House version of the bill Monday with Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., and said during the news conference that it already has 200 cosponsors.
The Star Act also has the backing of The Military Coalition, which is comprised of 35 military and veteran service organizations that represent more than 5.5 million service members, veterans, family members and survivors.
“Military retirement pay and disability compensation are two separate benefits. For those injured in the line of duty, this offset creates an undue financial burden on the family of a disabled veteran,” Vietnam Veterans of America National President Jack McManus said in a statement. “Those injured in defense of the U.S. Constitution have earned these benefits. It is time for Congress to address this injustice and change this law.”
If passed, the law would cost about $7 billion for 10 years, Tester said.
“People are going to argue that this costs too much money to do,” he said. “If we're going to send them off to war, we take care of them when they get home. Otherwise, we shouldn’t send them off to war to begin with.”
Richard Star, the veteran for whom the legislation is named, served in the Army Reserve and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He medically retired in 2018 after being diagnosed with lung cancer that was linked to toxic exposure from those deployments. He died Feb. 13, 2021, at age 51.
“We've got to get this done for him and the rest of the heroes, all the heroes who worked so very hard, and really wanted to go the full 20 years, but through no fault of their own, because they were injured in combat, they were not able to continue the careers,” Bilirakis said.