Weekly Column: Honoring Idaho Veterans’ Service through Fair Compensation

All active duty and retired military personnel deserve the care and benefits they deserve. When Major Richard A. Star, namesake and master of S. 344, Major Richard Star Act, who died last year after a long battle with cancer, our country has lost a decisive leader in providing veterans with the benefits they have earned. Major Star was a father, husband, and decorated war veteran who had retired medically as a result of combat injuries. In tribute to his legacy and with deep respect for his fellow veterans and military families, we continue to seize every opportunity possible to introduce this needed legislation.

I recently joined the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Jon Tester (D-Montana) in filing for the Major Richard Star Act as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2023 Authorization Act (NDAA). This would ensure that medical retired veterans and those injured in combat would receive both military salary and disability compensation obtained through service to our country. Since when introduced standalone bill, S. 344, in February 2021, along with Ranking Committee member Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and more than 40 original co-sponsors, including fellow US Senator Jim Risch, the US Senator, the bill continues to gain support. Major Richard Star’s act now has proving Senate support, with 67 Senate co-sponsors. Also a home companion billHR 1282, has 319 co-sponsors including representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

The legislation has strong support from leading veteran aid organizations that advocate ensuring that medical retirement veterans receive full compensation. It includes Idaho Vets who informed about my decision to co-lead the legislative work and worked to gain support for ending salary compensation for medically retired combat veterans.

The Nonpartisan Congressional Research Service explains the problem: “Concurrent pickup refers to the simultaneous receipt of two types of cash benefits by a veteran: Department of Defense (DOD) military retirement salary and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation. Before 2004, the applicable laws and regulations provided that a military pensioner could not receive both benefits. As a result, military disabled retirees recognized by the VA will be compensated (ie a reduction in the dollar for dollar ratio) by the amount of their VA compensation. ”Congress made changes to federal law to ensure that military retirees with a disability of 50 percent or more are eligible for both military retirement and disability compensation. However, for retired veterans who have worked less than 20 years, their disability pension is deducted from their pension.

The Major Richard Star Act would remedy this injustice by providing injured veterans with less than 20 years of service, also known as Chapter 61 Vets, both their disability pension and no-deduction pension. Funding for this policy shift will come from the existing military retirement trust fund, without increasing VA or DOD budgets.

More than 50,000 veterans, including hundreds in Idaho, can benefit from this shift, based on the most current data available from the DOD Actuary’s Office. We must face our responsibility to remedy unfair discrepancies such as this to respect the service of all veterans and the enduring legacy of Major Star. I look forward to passing the Richard Star Major Act.

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