01 November 2014

GAO Attacks Disabled Military Retiree "Triple Dipping"

Fox News and other sources jumped on an AP report of a twisted, error-laden General Accounting Office report that 60,000 veterans are "triple-dipping" disability benefits. In a particularly offensive headline, the usually even-handed Washington Times labeled the veterans as "caught" doing it. But how can one be "caught" earning and then receiving the protection provided by law?

At least each of the articles did mention that earning and receiving such benefits is entirely legal. We say entirely appropriate, as well!

Senator Tom Coburn, generally considered an anti-military representative from Oklahoma, requested the study and described the veterans in derogatory terms.

GAO failed to emphasise that veterans, and indeed, all Americans, are entitled to collect the benefits provided by law or employment contract. We often pay into those programs, as with Social Security Disability Insurance.

GAO's most glaring error was failure to detail the identical programs of disability protection enjoyed by the rest of American society. Military members, just like the letter carrier, the VA records clerk, or the WalMart checker, on-the-job injuries result in medical protection of the employee and where appropriate, disability income. Unlike many civilian disability plans, a military member has no protection in the event his/her injuries are associated with drug or alcohol abuse, or being absent from duty...civilians' disability insurance plans generally kick in regardless of the injury or illness' cause, however on-the-job workers compensation plans generally address only situations directly job-related.

Just like civilian workers eligible for retirement based on years of service, military members earn that benefit as well, but only after 20 long years of often hazardous service, not the five years specified for most civilian workers to be vested in their company's plans. Everyone, civilian or military, completing the requirements of their particular situation, receives retirement benefits. Military members enjoy no advantage over their civilian friends but rather, must serve longer and often under far more hazardous conditions, as well as forfeit numerous civil liberties while earning a retirement.

Social Security Disability Income kicks in for long-term or permanent disability for both military and civilian workers, basing the amount paid on pre-injury earnings, and providing through MediCare vital medical coverage as well. Military members do receive expedited processing of claims, an action undertaken by Social Security itself. About half of the veterans cited are over age 60, at which point disability benefits are replaced with regular, earned retirement benefits as with all other workers covered by Social Security, which we all pay into our entire working careers.

All persons working for a "substantial wage," (generally $1,070/month or more) whether military or civilian and regardless of degree of disability, disqualify themselves for Social Security Disability. Military retirement, or being on injured status awaiting disability retirement and receiving full pay and benefits, is not work! It is work and receipt of a "substantial wage," not one's income, which triggers the Social Security Disability cutoff. Civilian worker, military member...no difference.

VA disability is where military members have different protections. Different percentage of disability are assigned for different illnesses and injuries, with non-service connected issues not considered. At one time, VA disability was based on military rank, but years ago everyone was put on the same basic amount...a private's amount. Extraordinary disabilities can increase the veteran's monthly amount, for instance being home-bound, massive trauma, blindness and other catastrophic situations. Allowances are also made for dependents, and some other programs such as children's educational benefits are provided.

All situations addressing military members are created by Congress, not the Armed Forces. No special plans for special employees, as is often the case in civilian companies providing different benefits for executives than for other staff. Congress established the Social Security Disability System, in which civilian and military members are treated equally other than with expedited claims.

So the GAO didn't make much of a point in their study, other than to create, through clever use of statistics and selective use of references, the perception that it is a better deal to loose an arm or leg in combat than in a civilian accident.

It is a false perception. The GAO seemed to emphasize disabled military receiving earned retirement, earned VA benefits and Social Security Disability, as if this was legal but shifty or greedy. It is not! We earn our benefits through decades of service, through payments into Social Security, and by on-the-job injuries for which VA provides protection. Receiving earned military retirement and receiving earned VA disability as well is no different than a postal worker receiving his retirement and also, if qualified, his VA disability check from any military service performed.

If Congress wishes the military not to qualify for Social Security Disability Income for which all servicemembers are taxed, it should address that issue by exempting the military but also not taxing them for Social Security.

If our civilian friends want to address military pay or VA disability issues, we suggest, "go fight your own wars."

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