Federal law prohibits certain military retirees from receiving their earned retirement pay and Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation. The ability to receive both benefits together is known as concurrent receipt. These affected veterans are forced to choose either their retirement pay or their disability compensation, offsetting their retirement dollar for dollar. The Major Richard Star Act, a strongly supported non-partisan bill, is must-pass legislation which would correct an injustice faced by more than 50,000 disabled veterans.
In the 117th Congress, primary sponsors Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) reintroduced the Major Richard Star Act to correct the injustice faced by many of America’s most severely injured combat veterans. Major Richard Star, whose namesake the bill honors, advocated for the removal of the burdensome offset up until his death from combat-related cancer in February 2021. 307 representatives and 64 senators cosponsor the Star Act, H.R.1282 and S.344, offered by Rep. Bilirakis and Sen. Tester. In the House, the Star Act is the 13th-most cosponsored bill.
What the Major Richard Star Act achieves
Concurrent Retirement Disability Payments (CRDP) allow military retirees to receive both military retired pay and VA compensation. In 2004, Congress created the CRDP program, recognizing that disability compensation and military retired pay are two different types of pay for two different reasons. In 2014, the phase-in period for CRDP ended. Retirees with 20 years or more of active military service and a service-connected disability rated 50% or greater became eligible for concurrent receipt. When certain military retirees are excluded from the CRDP program, the Star Act offers a solution.
The Major Richard Star Act expands CRDP to eligible veterans. The Star Act defines an eligible veteran as one who has 1) completed less than 20 years of active military service, 2) been medically retired, and 3) incurred a combat-related disability. One big difference is that the current CRDP does not require a disability to be combat-related, while the Star Act does. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) put together a policy paper listing by-state statistics of the number of affected veterans. Texas leads the states with over 6500 combat-injured retirees.
Strong non-partisan support and challenges to the Star Act
Many lawmakers and veterans service organizations (VSOs) show majority support for the Star Act. The Military Coalition, a consortium of 35-plus VSOs representing 5.5 million veterans supports the Major Richard Star Act in its letter of legislative priorities. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) issued an Action Alert to include the Major Star Act in the FY23 NDAA, and Facebook groups like CRSC Offset Elimination to Medically Retired Combat Veterans, Major Richard Star Advocate Group, and the Major Richard Star Act regularly update concerned veterans and spearhead advocacy efforts for the bill.
Rep. Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ruiz (D-Calif.) offered the Star Act as amendment # 98 to the House version of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with 95 representatives cosponsoring the amendment. Despite garnering the highest support among 1230 offered amendments, the House Rules Committee, chaired by Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) ruled the Star Act out of order. While the Star Act’s future hangs in limbo, a few potential pathways exist for the bill to become law.
As of press time, the following Representatives and Senators have not cosponsored the Star Act.
Representatives who do not cosponsor the Major Richard Star Act
The following list includes Representatives who are members of the Armed Services Committee, Veterans Affairs Committee, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee, or a combination of them.
Senators who do not cosponsor the Major Richard Star Act
The following list includes Senators who are members of the Armed Services Committee, Veterans Affairs Committee, or both committees.
Despite a lengthy list of Representatives and Senators who have not committed to cosponsoring the Major Richard Star Act, some lawmakers have expressed their support of the legislation if it comes to a full vote before their respective chamber of Congress.
How the Major Richard Star Act can become law
Three paths towards passage of the Star Act into law could offer medically retired, combat-injured veterans much needed relief.
The traditional route as a stand-alone bill
The traditional route of a bill begins with a representative or senator sponsoring the legislation. After a bill is introduced, the bill is assigned to the appropriate committee(s) for study. If the committee releases the bill, then the bill is placed on a calendar to be voted on, debated, or amended. After that, if a bill passes by simple majority (218 out of 435), the bill moves to the Senate. In the Senate, a simple majority (51 of 100) passes a bill. After passing both chambers of Congress, a bill moves to the president for signature or veto.
In the House, the Star Act is currently stalled in the Veterans Affairs Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs. Congressman Takano (D-Calif.) chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) chairs the Armed Services Committee, and Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-W.Va.) chairs the Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs. The respective chairs hold the power to pass a bill out of committee. Under normal circumstances, if a chair does not release a bill, the bill “dies” in committee.
On the Senate side, the Star Act is stalled in the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
Despite being stalled, the Star Act enjoys substantial support in all committees and the subcommittee. Perhaps the question to be asked is “Why do the chairs allow the bills to languish?” I reached out to the offices of members of Congress about the Star Act, yet only a handful replied. The offices of Rep. Takano, Rep. Smith, Rep Luria, and Sen. Reed have not responded to my requests for information.
Passage as an amendment to the NDAA
While the House rejected the Star Act as an NDAA amendment, efforts in the Senate, led by Sen. Tester, are underway to offer the bill as an amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA. If Sen. Tester is successful in lobbying his colleagues to consider and include the Star Act in the Senate NDAA, then a conference committee with members of the House and Senate would meet to discuss how differences are resolved and identical versions of the NDAA are created in both chambers.
Adding the bill to the House Consensus Calendar
In the 116th Congress, House adopted rules to create the Consensus Calendar. The Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives maintains a list of Consensus Calendar Motions eligible for debate, voting, and passage. For placement on the Consensus Calendar, a bill must accumulate 290 cosponsors, and must not have been reported out of committee. Once a bill maintains cosponsor threshold for a cumulative total of 25 legislative days, it is placed on the Calendar until considered by the House or its respective committee. Rep. Bilirakis filed a motion Aug. 12 to place the Star Act on the Consensus Calendar.
Lawmakers weigh in on the Major Richard Star Act
Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a proud cosponsor of the Major Richard Star Act, says “The Major Richard Star Act brings fairness and equity to service members who work for our country and are injured on the job. I am a proud co-sponsor of this bill, and I strongly support veterans being treated with the care and respect they deserve for their sacrifices. There are many veterans with less than 20 years of service and/or less than 50 percent disabled who are justly owed compensation and need those benefits. We need to support our service members, and the Star Act helps us do just that.”
Rep. Bilirakis, the Star Act’s primary sponsor in the House, has been an ardent advocate for concurrent receipt each year he has been in office. Rep. Bilirakis has spearheaded efforts even beyond the Major Richard Star Act to help disabled veterans by introducing H.R. 303, the Retired Pay Restoration Act, to allow individuals who were retired or separated after at least 20 years of military service due to a service-connected disability shall be eligible for the full concurrent receipt of both veterans’ disability compensation and either military retired pay or combat-related special pay. Currently the Retired Pay Restoration Act has 45 cosponsors.
He simultaneously pursues the Major Richard Star Act because it will allow more Veterans to receive the full benefits to which they are rightfully entitled, remaining committed to fixing this issue for all retired Veterans. In a recent press release, Congressman Bilirakis stated: “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. “I am committed to rectifying this injustice for all Veterans, and passage of the Major Richard Star Act will get us one step closer to our goal of ensuring that Veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.”
Rep. Bilirakis adds: “I’d like to thank the Veterans Service Organizations that have been tenacious in their outreach to Members of Congress throughout the country to request co-sponsorship. Because of their instrumental support, we are able to move this bill one step closer to becoming law.”
Sen. Tester, the Star Act’s primary sponsor in the Senate, has this to say about why he sponsors the legislation:
“I was proud to introduce the Major Richard Star Act to honor the service and sacrifice of heroes like Richard Star and send an important message that our nation truly has our veterans’ backs. When it comes to our nation’s disabled veterans, we’ve got to be doing everything we can to ensure they’re getting the full benefits they earned and deserve—no matter how long they served. The Major Richard Star Act does just that—cutting bureaucratic red tape that currently stands in the way of combat-injured retired veterans with fewer than 20 years of service from getting both VA disability and DOD retirement payments.”
I asked Sen. Tester how he would address the veteran service organizations and their advocacy efforts to see the Major Richard Star Act pass into law. His answer?
“As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’m proud to take my cues from veterans. I thank these veterans and Veterans Service Organizations for their support, efforts, and voices on behalf of this important piece of legislation. This bill has broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House because of them, and together, we’re going to keep pushing until we get this done.”
Sen. Tester also reiterates his commitment to veterans and his efforts to offer the Star Act as an amendment to the NDAA.
“In my role as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, I’m working hard to get the Major Richard Star Act included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act and encouraging bipartisan support from each and every one of my Senate colleagues on behalf of the men and women who’ve served and sacrificed.”
Sen. Rubio, one of the most recent Senators to cosponsor the legislation, has this to say: ““We should take care of our veterans, especially those injured in service to our nation. We cannot maintain an all-volunteer force if we keep turning our back on those brave men and women once they come home. America is better than that.”
With every branch of the U.S. military struggling to meet its 2022 recruiting goals, taking care of veterans must be a priority for political leaders.
Veterans weigh in on the Major Richard Star Act
Following the Star Act’s reintroduction during the 117th Congress in early 2021, veterans have actively maintained their advocacy efforts with lawmakers. While the legislation enjoys strong non-partisan support, veterans maintain different views on the likelihood of its passage.
On veteran, James D. Thompson Sr., who served in the Army and incurred a combat-related injury, has this to say: “I have a problem with them [media] not advertising or mentioning the Richard Star Act like they did with the PACT Act. The PACT Act had way more media time than the Star Act. It’s like we have to force the media to even say anything about the Major Richard Star Act. Richard Star’s memorial is September 13, and I haven’t heard anything about that until a few days ago.”
On a positive note, growing media coverage on the legislation and the veterans it affects, is starting to sweep the country. Articles address veterans’ developing concerns and spread awareness for the thousands of veterans impacted by the Major Richard Star Act. The growing coverage of the Star Act moves in line with the the expanded benefits the legislation provides by removing the offset faced by combat-injured veterans.
Thompson raises two questions other veterans have expressed concern over: “Will the media televise the Major Richard Star Act on all the news media like they did the PACT Act? The Major Richard Star Act is just as important as any other bill. Soldiers died serving the US military and we have to beg them [lawmakers] for this retirement benefit.”
Some veterans like Thompson express concern over the politicization of the Star Act with the midterm elections on the horizon.
Thompson’s final question echoes a sentiment held by veterans and advocates alike: “My main question is, will the Richard Star bill be passed before the midterm elections or are we just blowing steam?”
Major Richard Star was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on September 13, 2022.
Michael Raska, a US Navy veteran and advocate, attended Major Star’s internment ceremony at Arlington. He has this to say: “After the internment service was over, I knelt down on the ground to Major Richard Star’s Urn, and I told him ‘Thank you, brother, for everything you have done for our country and Constitution through your military service, your sacrifice and your suffering from your combat wounds and disabilities. Thank you, brother, for devoting your final months on this Earth to us-your fellow combat-disabled veterans by fighting for this bill in Congress. Rest now brother, I will finish your fight in passing your bill.'”
An Air Force veteran, with physical and mental disabilities resulting from combat service, has this to say: “For me I view it as the act allows medically retired individuals to receive their retirement pay that should have never been taken away to begin with. It is funding that you did earn. You didn’t ask to be retired early. Sacrificing your life, mental stability, and family stability is a major risk you take serving and don’t mind doing it because many see the bigger. It is our nation and I for one would fight for this Nation all over again. It just extremely sad that the same Nation we are willing to fight for doesn’t always see willing to do the same by ensuring what individuals have earned they received.”
The above-mentioned Air Force veteran, who wishes to remain anonymous, also shared more information about the condition of his combat-related injuries. The veteran states, “From deploying I gained three different gastro issues from deploying being in many harsh conditions, which now causes me to be sick often. There are times when I will just lose 40 lbs in a month because I’m too sick to eat. So, because of these conditions and others I became undeployable. That was one of the hardest things to hear because I joined to truly serve my nation and to be forced to retire. I wasn’t ready to go.”
The Major Richard Star Act would provide eligible medically retired military veterans, often seriously injured, to receive both their earned retirement and VA disability compensation. For veterans unable to work because of combat-related injuries, the Star Act is a welcome form of support in recognition of their service.
Another valid concern raised by veterans includes receiving generic responses from their lawmakers, or responses they feel don’t address their issues.
Despite the concerns they have raised, some veterans share that not every response received is politically ambiguous. Some lawmakers respond directly to veteran’s concerns, addressing the issues raised in detail.
Other veterans raise an important factor in their support of the Major Richard Star Act: the impact the legislation would have on their quality of life.
Another veteran, wishing to remain anonymous, has this to say, “I am one of the vets forfeiting my retirement. This is about “QUALITY OF LIFE” for me, and many others. I’m 42 years old, and my health is deteriorating fast, but my point here isn’t about getting the money before I die and can’t use it. It’s about getting the money right now why I still have some quality of life left to use it before I end up in a wheelchair.”
The veteran continues, “I don’t know how long I have, 5-7 years max, and I know many others in the same position. After I’m in that wheelchair, the money loses its value as quality of life has reached attempting the basic necessities in life every day. My left foot is paralyzed, my arms go numb and I’m losing both hands to nerve damage, need my neck fused, need a right knee replacement, and already had 3 back surgeries. I’d like to enjoy the few declining years I have left, but what good is more money if it comes later when you can’t participate in society?”
Final thoughts on the Major Richard Star Act
The Major Richard Star Act is the next stage of progress in caring for America’s wounded military veterans. While veterans and organizations have tirelessly advocated for the Star Act, time is running out. If the Star Act is not passed during the 117th Congress, then the process will need to start all over in the next congress, if the bill is reintroduced. Hindering the bill’s passage would deal a large blow to veterans.
In a CNN article, comedian-activist Jon Stewart said this about the PACT Act: “And these guys, they act like, ‘Oh, don’t worry. Maybe we’ll get to it now, maybe we’ll get to it in the lame duck session.’ Some of these folks won’t be around,” Stewart continued. “They live scan to scan. So they can pretend to be on Senate time, but these other folks are on human time. And that time is precious.”
Like with the PACT Act, time is luxury not afforded to every combat-injured veteran. Some veterans may pass away from their combat-related injuries prior to the Star Act’s passage. What then?
The impact of the Star Act reaches beyond veterans and their family members. More than 50,000 veterans waiting in limbo on the Star Act’s potential passage need your help.
Here’s how you can help:
Contact your lawmakers. Click the following links to find the phone numbers to call your Representatives and engage your Senators. Take to social media like Facebook and Twitter to reach other well-known veteran advocates and celebrities like Jon Stewart and organizations like the Gary Sinise Foundation. You can even join the VFW’s campaign to eliminate the unjust offset for medical retirees
Taking a few minutes of your time will impact a lifetime for combat-injured veterans forced to medically retire before serving their full terms. The veterans who answered the call of duty now need you to stand with them and support the Major Richard Star Act.
If you want to increase awareness about the Major Richard Star Act, share this article with lawmakers, family, friends, and veterans. A few minutes of your time will impact a lifetime for veterans. You can help bring the Major Richard Star Act across the finish line and into law.
Edited by: Kelson Jennings
Feature Image: James Sugent, pexels.com