Gus Bilirakis Leads the Charge to Expand Retirement Benefits for Disabled Veterans

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., one of the top Republicans on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, is looking to expand retirement benefits for disabled veterans.

Last week, Bilirakis paired up with U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., to bring out the “Major Richard Star Act.”

The Florida Republican’s office offered some of the rationales behind the proposal.

“In 2004, Congress passed concurrent receipt legislation, which allows military retirees with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher to receive both military retired pay and compensation.  This had previously been prohibited by law.  Unfortunately, those who have retired from the military who did not reach the 20-year mark and were medically retired under Chapter 61 due to combat-related injuries do not receive the compensation they deserve. These retirees have their disability pay deducted from their retirement pay, which is wrong,” the congressman’s office noted, insisting the bill  “will allow more veterans who are just as deserving to receive the benefits to which they are rightfully entitled” by repealing the “unfair offset and allows combat-wounded Chapter 61 Veterans (those who were medically-retired with less than 20 years of service) to participate in the Concurrent Receipt Program, receiving their retirement pay from the Department of the Defense and their disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “

Bilirakis weighed in on the bill on Tuesday.

“The brave men and women who return from serving our country should be able to receive the benefits promised to them. Military retirement pay and service-connected disability compensation are two completely different benefits. One does not diminish the merits of the other,” said Bilirakis. “While I am still committed to rectifying this injustice for all veterans, passage of the Major Richard Star Act gets us one step closer to our goal of ensuring that veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

The bill was sent to the Veterans Affairs and the U.S. House Armed Services Committee last week. U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., is backing the bill. So far, there is no counterpart over in the U.S. Senate.

At the start of last year, Bilirakis introduced a similar bill to “ensure veterans are able to receive both their VA disability compensation and their military retired pay, eliminating the unfair offset between the two benefits.”Bilirakis brought back the “Retired Pay Restoration Act,” which the Florida Republican has pushed before but never got over the finish line, back in January 2019. U.S. Rep. Tusli Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is the main cosponsor of the legislation.

When he brought back the bill, Bilirakis weighed in on his proposal and why he continued to champion it.

“Our nation’s veterans have earned and deserve the utmost respect, best possible services and care for the sacrifices they and their families have made to defend this country – especially under the constant threat of global terrorism,” Bilirakis said. “However, under current law, some military retirees have their disability pay deducted from their retirement pay, which is unconscionable.  These are two completely different benefits, and it is wrong for them to count against one another. Plain and simply, it isn’t right to deny veterans the financial compensation they have earned and deserve.

“I am honored and grateful to have Representative Tulsi Gabbard working alongside me this year, in a bipartisan manner, to champion this important cause.  I am hopeful that with our combined efforts, this will be the year we are able to finally rectify this injustice,” said Bilirakis.

The American Legion and other veterans groups are backing the legislation.

“Representative Bilirakis and Gabbard’s introduction of legislation to repeal the remaining vestiges of the disabled veterans tax, known as concurrent receipt, continues a decades-long endeavor to reverse a gross injustice. With passage of this bill by Congress, eligible veterans will never have to choose between payment for their service or the debt owed to them for their sacrifices,” said American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad.

The bill has been sent to the House Veterans Affairs and the Armed Services Committees. In the 14 months since he introduced the bill, Bilirakis has seen some progress but it has remained before the two committees for more than a year now. Bilirakis has nailed down the support of more than 100 cosponsors including U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Bill Posey, R-Fla., Rutherford, Ross Spano, R-Fla., and Greg Steube, R-Fla.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has introduced the bill in the U.S. Senate and has reeled in more than 25 cosponsors.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

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