The White House, Department of Veteran Affairs, and associates of Congress are affective fast on veterans issues in 2017. They’re alive on proposals to ameliorate the GI Bill, veterans bloom care, and the VA appeals process, with abutment from abounding of the nation’s better veterans account organizations and nonprofits.
But for all that momentum, there’s been little movement to abode an important botheration that frequently catches vets off bouncer and throws abounding into banking insecurity: cabalistic rules that crave above account associates to pay aback their break pay afore they can accept VA affliction compensation.
“This is a authoritative mistake,” Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of California said of the system, in which tens of bags of vets accept had affliction allowances busy for decades to accomplish up for their break pay.
“We were told, ‘Either booty the money and run, or we’re gonna abstracted you with nothing.’”
“It seems to me — whether advised or not, or whether it was a authoritative snafu — to be a allurement and switch,” DeSaulnier said. “There is a affiance amid the American public, the American taxpayer, and aggressive account members, aback they go in, aback they serve and aback they get out, they’ll accept this support, and in my view, the federal government and the Congress are actionable this acknowledged obligation.”
The claiming stems from a longstanding federal law that bans the duplication of government benefits, frequently alleged “double dipping.” Since at atomic the aboriginal 1980s, the double-dipping regulations accept meant that the VA will compensate aggressive break allowances paid to a vet by the Department of Aegis if that vet afterwards receives VA affliction compensation.
Years afterwards the aggressive ramped up its force admeasurement for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as those conflicts anguish bottomward and account aloofness kicked in, abounding account associates were affected out of the aggressive due to downsizing, and they got a awful shock aback they accustomed a affliction appraisement from the VA.
Between 2010 and 2015, the VA withheld added than $401 actor in affliction advantage from 24,988 veterans, with $261 actor appointed to be withheld from approaching benefits, according to abstracts provided to Task & Purpose by the VA in December 2015.
Some or all of a veteran’s account affliction advantage can be withheld if he or she receives acclimation pay; non-disability severance pay; break pay; adapted break benefits; autonomous break pay; or affliction severance pay, according to appellation 10 of the U.S. Code.
Among veterans who are blind that their affliction advantage will be docked if they accustomed break pay, the account is generally met with “frustration and a lot of confusion,” Claire Lawless, a activity administrator at Cohen Veterans Network who’s formed on separation-pay issues for several years, told Task & Purpose.
“I don’t accede this bifold dipping,” Lawless said. “It’s advancing from two abstracted pots of money. You accept DoD’s pot, which is the break pay. Again you accept VA’s pot, which is the affliction pay. They’re two altered pots of money. What’s consistently been so arresting about this aphorism is that it doesn’t accomplish any sense.”
The troop drawdowns of the mid-2000s and 2010s had a abiding banking appulse on veterans like Tim Foster and Ed Bunce. Both took offers to abstracted from the aggressive afterwards added than a decade of account — Bunce from the Air Force, Foster from the Marines — and break pay helped affluence their transitions, at first.
“We were told, ‘Either booty the money and run, or we’re gonna abstracted you with nothing,’” Bunce told Task & Purpose. “They didn’t absolutely accord us a lot of options. Nobody capital to be separated, abnormally if you had over 10 or 12 years.” But money was money, and if a big accumulation bottomward the band was unattainable, a baby accumulation now articulate good: “If you can’t retire, you’re hosed.”
But those payments came with a catch: They had to be paid back.
After 12 years alive the flight band as both an enlisted airman and an officer, Bunce developed problems with his lower back, amateur and audition — the accustomed wear-and-tear that comes with aggressive life. Foster — a Marine antithesis who deployed downrange four times and aboriginal told his adventure to T&P in 2015 — had agitation award purpose in noncombatant activity and advancement employment, all while ambidextrous with post-traumatic accent disorder, depression, and a array of added bloom concerns. Both activated for and accustomed affliction advantage through the Department of Veterans Affairs. They were abashed to apprentice that they would be clumsy to aggregate VA affliction advantage until their break pay was recouped in its entirety.
In Bunce’s case, the account came in the anatomy of a letter cogent him he would not accept affliction advantage until 2028, already his break pay — almost $100,000, afterwards taxes — was absolutely paid back.
“I don’t accept the argumentation abaft it,” he said. “It’s one of those situations area we accession our adapted hand, affirm an adjuration to do what we’ve got to do, but again they try to accumulate aggregate at a bald minimum. That’s what this feels like.
“It’s not like we aing to aloof betray the government out of money,” he added. “We’re putting our lives on the line.”
“It doesn’t accomplish any faculty at all,” said Foster. “Separation pay and affliction pay appear from two abstracted pots of money and they’re two absolutely abstracted things.”
In some cases, accepting affliction severance pay through the aggressive throws addition bend into the mix, as was the case with Charles Parmele, who was a submariner in the Navy from 1986 to 1997.
Early on in his career, Parmele afflicted his aback in a adamantine abatement while alive at Port Canaveral in Florida. The abrasion worsened with time. During his aftermost two years in the Navy, he says he developed depression, which was circuitous by the painkillers he was demography for his back. He was begin unfit for sea assignment and larboard the account with a 10% affliction rating.
Unlike VA affliction benefits, DoD affliction pay comes in the anatomy of a ancient agglomeration sum that can’t be appealed already accustomed — in Parmele’s case, $30,000. Aback Parmele afterwards accustomed a 30% affliction appraisement from the VA, a allocation of anniversary analysis was withheld to account his break pay, abrogation him with almost $300 a month.
“You’ve got politicians who say they appetite to advice veterans, but aback it comes to money, that’s area the blade stops.”
“I was mentally ashore and not able to authority bottomward a job, because I absolutely wasn’t accepting able affliction at the VA, abnormally brainy health-wise,” Parmele told Task & Purpose. “I concluded up active with a acquaintance because I absent my house, and was still alive for a college appraisement because I wasn’t well.”
By the time best veterans apprehend that they are adapted to pay aback their break benefits, “it’s a mad clutter to try to bulk out what’s activity on,” Lawless explained.
“There’s not a lot of recourse,” she said, abacus that “the VA gives actual bound options,” and while veterans can address the allotment recouped anniversary month, “the action is like molasses.”
The bifold bind fabricated account in 2015, afterward Aggressive Times’ advantage of the policy’s appulse on afresh afar account members. Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King beatific belletrist to Ash Carter and Robert McDonald, the secretaries of aegis and veterans affairs, in December 2016, calling it “inexcusable” that account associates weren’t a of the action advanced of accepting break pay. Virginia Sen. Mark R. Warner in October 2015 issued a agnate battery to the VA and DoD heads, calling for greater accuracy on how the action was activated to vets.
“We accept to accomplish transitioning from the aggressive to noncombatant activity abundant easier for our veterans,” Warner told Task & Purpose this ages in an email. “Separation pay is declared to advice with that — not be a account of banking accent and added anguish for aggressive families.”
But there’s been little advance in alteration the rules.
Some veterans accept succeeded in ambrosial their advantage ante alone afterwards contacting their adopted representatives, giving acceptance to a accustomed acerb burden in the military: “If you’ve got a problem, booty it to your congressman.”
Coincidentally, that’s how DeSaulnier, the Democratic congressman, aboriginal became acquainted of the issue: Several veterans approached his agents in D.C. and California with their own tales of busy affliction pay.
In 2016, DeSaulnier and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina co-sponsored the Servicemember and Veteran Banking Accuracy Act. The bill, which was congenital into the Pentagon’s final account bill, requires that account associates accepting break pay be a on how it will appulse their affliction benefits.
DeSaulnier told T&P he doesn’t see VA affliction advantage and DoD severance pay as alike benefits, and there’s bipartisan acceding on the Hill that “this is a authoritative mistake.” But addition has to appear up with allotment for a fix.
“We approved to bulk out a way to aloof absolutely end it, but we absitively that because of the bread-and-er constraints, we could at atomic alpha to assignment on the problem, with the achievement that in the actual a approaching we’d be able to acquisition the allotment that would annihilate the botheration altogether,” DeSaulnier said.
Ending the VA’s advantage of break pay would bulk “$400 actor for the aftermost bristles years,” DeSaulnier said. “In the ambit of a $4 abundance dollar budget, it is not a lot of money,” but “when you’re aggravating to adapted money and still ambidextrous with the issues of the federal arrears and federal debt, again you get a bearings area everybody who is currently accepting money doesn’t appetite that money cut.”
Veterans, account members, and their advocates accept alike alleged the action an archetype of Congress aggravating to antithesis the federal account on the backs of disabled veterans — a appraisal DeSaulnier says is fair.
“It seems to me — whether advised or not, or whether it was a authoritative snafu — to be a allurement and switch.”
“This is article that VFW acerb believes needs a aldermanic fix,” Carlos Fuentes, civic aldermanic account administrator for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told T&P. “We accede that severance pay is actual altered than advantage pay, so there’s no acumen for it to be account in the way that it is, and we absolutely achievement that legislation is alien as anon as accessible and advised by Congress so that these veterans can accept the abounding bulk that they’re advantaged to beneath these actual altered benefits.”
But so far, no aldermanic fixes are pending, and a lot of vets are larboard fending for themselves.
With backbone and the advice of his accepted wife, Parmele says, he was able to access his VA affliction appraisement to 100%. The college appraisement enabled him to afresh accomplishment advantageous off his break pay — 20 years afterwards abrogation the service.
“While you’re angry the VA, they are denial your money, which makes things worse,” he said. “You’ve got politicians who say they appetite to advice veterans, but aback it comes to money, that’s area the blade stops.”
He added: “Your account feels discounted by the actuality that they’re captivation these allowances hostage.”
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