In the churning waters of the military disability system, a labyrinth of rules and regulations presents an intimidating challenge to veterans seeking compensation for injuries sustained during service. An upcoming bill called the Major Richard Star Act intends to simplify one aspect of this system for veterans who have been medically retired due to combat related injuries. The bill is also being pushed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Currently cosponsored by 277 members of the House and 60 Senators from both sides of the aisle, there is strong bi-partisan support to get the Star Act across the finish line.
There are two sources of post-service compensation available to eligible service members – retirement pay and disability compensation. Due to the physical rigors of military life, many service members sustain a work-related injury and seek compensation for their injuries. If the injuries cause the member to become unfit for service, he or she receives a medical retirement. There is no minimum time in service required for a medical retirement. However, without the Star Act, medical retirees with combat-related injuries have their benefits offset if they have not completed 20 or more years of active military service. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) handles disability evaluation and compensation and is separate from the military retirement system. The VA assigns a percentage rating of disability based on the severity of the condition.
Under the current rules, a veteran must be rated at least 50% disabled to be eligible for the full 20-year retirement pay and disability compensation, also known as concurrent receipt. If the service member falls short of either of these two metrics, his or her benefits are offset. For example, a combat veteran whose injuries rated greater than 50% but was forced to medically retire short of 20 years would have his or her benefits offset dollar for dollar. The Major Richard Star Act removes this offset for veterans who received their injuries from combat.. According to the Wounded Warrior Project, the Star Act would expand full benefits to, “42,000 retirees whose military careers were cut short due to combat-related injuries, finally allowing them to collect hundreds of dollars per month that they have been denied up until now.” It should be noted that the bill only applies to veterans who served in combat zones and are already eligible for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). For all other disabled veterans, the offset will remain in place. Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D, CA-26) responded to the NYC Daily Post for comment, “I am proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation, which has strong bipartisan support. I am also committed to working with my colleagues to advance the bill to ensure military retirees receive the pay and benefits that they have earned and deserve.” While most co-sponsors are Democrats, there is a strong contingent of Republicans willing to support the Star Act as well.
Currently the bill is sitting in committee in both houses of congress. The Senate’s Committee on Armed Services and the House’s Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs have had the bill since March and April 2021, respectively. The Star Act appears stalled but could receive a boost if added as an amendment to the NDAA. With the robust collaboration between both parties however, there is little to suggest that the Star Act will fail. The fastest path to becoming law would be as an amendment to the NDAA. The NDAA is the annual bill outlining the budget of the Department of Defense. Military advocacy organization Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), “demands that Congress includes the Major Richard Star Act as an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023.” Should the Star Act be added to the NDAA, as currently written, it would become law the month after its passage.
Thousands of combat disabled veterans are waiting with bated breath for the potential financial relief. One veteran who has suffered from the benefits offset, retired Army Col. Ken Nance, stated to the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), “I can make some discretionary income cuts to a certain point, but [with this injury], I still had to make some real life changes. And if I am making those real life changes, I know everybody else below me is making as much or more real life changes.” Col. Nance was a personal friend of Major Star for which the act is named. The disabilities sustained from combat operations directly affect a service member’s ability to work, curbing their earning potential in the civilian world. With a potential resolution in sight, many combat veterans could see a much needed supplement to their limited income.
Featured Image attributed to Robert Linder (Unsplash)