WASHINGTON – Members of Congress, disturbed over a 19th-century law that has prevented some disabled veterans from getting full retirement pay, are acting to change it.
"I think this is a disgrace. This injustice has gone on too long," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday at a news conference to discuss details of legislation he introduced to modify the veterans' disability policy.
Under current law, retired disabled veterans must forfeit a dollar of their retirement pay for each dollar they receive in disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Reid's bill would provide the Defense Department money to give more seriously disabled veterans full retirement pay regardless of their disability checks. Reid attached his measure last year to a larger bill that authorized Pentagon programs, but the final House-Senate compromise included no money for the amendment.
Reid introduced the latest effort shortly before the recent congressional recess, and now his and a similar House bill by Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., have been referred to committees.
Reid is asking for $516 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and an estimated $17.8 billion over the next 10 years. The money would give full retirement payments to 100,000 veterans classified as suffering at least 60 percent disabilities.
The old law, said Reid, "is something that the American people didn't know about. It's a dirty little secret, really." The Nevada senator noted that all other federal employees receive both civil service retirement and disability payments with no offset.
Due to the great number of veterans after the Civil War and a lack of money to pay full benefits, Congress enacted the dollar-for-dollar law on disability and retirement pay.