This past Monday we honored our nations defenders of freedom by celebrating Veterans Day. There were countless parades, special events, and memorial services held in recognition of these real life heroes in big cities and small towns across America. As a veteran myself, I have a special appreciation for Veterans Day and its meaning.
But as important as it is to recognize our nations veterans on Nov. 11, its just not enough. We fall terribly short in fully appreciating and giving back to our nations veterans - not just once a year, but every single day.
Given the particularly perilous threat we face today from Iraq and the wicked regime of Saddam Hussein, we should be thankful for those who serve in our armed forces and reminded of those who have gone before them, sacrificing so much for our freedom. Through the years, our nation has depended on Americas soldiers to protect our borders, defend freedom, and win wars. Without exception, they have always been there for us.
Among those all too familiar with the high price for our nations freedom are disabled veterans who are also retired military. Yet today we show our gratitude to these military retirees by denying them the benefits they have earned through their service.
Im talking about the dollar-for-dollar offset of military retired pay and VA disability compensation that is currently being imposed by our government on these heroes.
Let me explain. Current federal law does not allow full military retirement pay for veterans who were disabled while serving our country. Believe it or not, for every dollar that a disabled veteran gets in disability benefits, a dollar is taken away from that veterans military retirement. You read it right - our country penalizes disabled veterans by docking their hard-earned retirement. Sadly, we have failed in our responsibility and broken our promise to these soldiers who gave everything in the name of duty, honor, and country.
Its a shameful situation and one that really confounds all logic as well.
You see, the law which allows this injustice to continue doesnt apply to any other federal employees - just military retirees. It really doesnt seem possible, but its true. No other category of federal employee is forced to give back any of their retirement funds because theyre receiving VA disability compensation. Thats the way it should be for everyone; but for some reason, we make an exception for retired military folks - and thats just plain wrong.
As I mentioned earlier, our nation is at a crossroads at home and abroad in defending freedom. Americas war against terrorism continues and preparations are being made daily on bringing Saddam Hussein and his henchmen to justice. In the midst of this heightened state of alert and awareness, what kind of message does this send to our servicemen and women or those thinking of joining the ranks? The exact wrong one.
Were telling the folks we depend on the most, Sign up for service. Do your job dutifully and put your life on the line for America. By the way, if youre injured in the process, dont expect to be fully compensated. Thanks for the help.
How long can we expect to attract the highest quality recruits to join our military ranks when we cant even live up to our end of the bargain?
Not very long.
Ive continued to battle in Washington to bring an end to this prejudice against disabled veterans.
In this past congressional session, I served as a co-sponsor on H.R. 303 - a bipartisan bill that would have corrected this by allowing concurrent receipt for all of Americas disabled veterans. This bill would have eliminated the current offset entirely, thereby allowing these military retirees to collect their full retirement pay and disability compensation to which they are entitled.
Regardless of whether the problem is remedied through this legislation or a similar measure, Congress owes it to these heroes and our entire nation to right this wrong immediately. Anything less is unacceptable.
When all of the Veterans Day ceremonies have ended, lets not forget our debt to Americas disabled veterans. This much we owe to those who gave most.
(U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., is an Evans resident.)
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