Enabling the Disabled

The House is trying to speed the process of providing higher compensation for disabled military retirees.

The House voted last week to speed up a reform that would give more compensation to about 29,000 military retirees who are too disabled to work.

The move came in an amendment to the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed May 25 by a vote of 390-39. The "concurrent receipt" effort seeks to help military retirees with more than 20 years of service and a Veterans Affairs disability rating of higher than 50 percent. Those veterans previously had their retirement benefits reduced by the amount of their disability compensation.

In previous legislation, Congress had voted to phase out the benefit reductions over nine years and immediately remove the reductions for the most severely disabled retirees. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., pushed last week to speed up the effort to remove the reductions for retirees with 60 to 90 percent disability ratings.

Currently, those veterans would have the reduction phased out by Jan. 1, 2014. The Butterfield effort would move that up to 2009. The funding needed to support the move-about $164 million-would be generated by selling surplus defense stockpile materials, according to Butterfield's office.

"With [the] nation's debt approaching $8 trillion, it's critical to find solutions that don't drive us further into debt," Butterfield said. "By selling surplus defense stockpiles, we can meet our obligations to veterans without going further into debt."

A spokesman at the congressman's office acknowledged that veterans with a 50 to 59 percent disability rating would still be required to wait until 2014 for their reduction to be phased out.

"With the money we could find, this is who we could help," said Butterfield spokesman Ken Willis.

"It's unfair and needs to be eliminated," Butterfield said of the benefits reduction. "By doing so, we can fulfill the promises our country made to our brave fighting men and women who have sacrificed so much."

Congressional staffers said that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is expected to offer an amendment to match the House effort.

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