The Awful Annual Idea That Would Rob Military Retirees

(Photo: Stock image.)(Photo: Stock image.)

Every so often the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan federal entity known as the CBO, releases a massive list of ways to decrease the federal deficit. Think of it as the CBO’s dream sheet. They throw out every option they can come up with of, crunch all the numbers and then tell us how much, or little, each one would help to move America into the black.

One option in the CBO’s latest 300-page “I wonder what would happen if…” piece of fan fiction, which was released on December 8, has the military and veteran community more than just a little peeved.

But, before we get to the (awful) idea in question, remember: this is just an idea. In fact, it’s an idea that has been presented annually for many years running, along with a whole pile of equally terrible money-saving ideas (example: “raise the retirement age,” or “cap military pay raises” and “charge more for Tricare for Life.”)

No bill with this idea has been presented in Congress. (Yet.) No elected official is championing this. (Yet.) It’s okay to hate the idea (And you should hate it. You should really, really hate it). And it’s too soon to start calling your Congress-people about it. Save your energy and ire for later.

The awful idea in question? Eliminating what is known as “concurrent receipt” from military retiree pay. 

Concurrent receipt is what allows a military retiree with an over 50 percent disability rating or one whose disabilities are combat related to draw both a retirement pension while simultaneously drawing compensation for injuries incurred during that service.

While it may seem obvious to everyone who hasn’t replaced his or her heart with a calculator and brain with a line of code that earning a pension has nothing to do with getting injured, at least a few of the green eyeshades at the CBO saw it differently. They say:

Beginning in 2018, this option would eliminate concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability compensation: Military retirees now drawing CRSC [Combat-Related Special Compensation] or CRDP [Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay] would no longer receive those payments, nor would future retirees. As a result, the option would reduce federal spending by $139 billion between 2018 and 2026, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

But someone in the CBO must have had a parent who loved and hugged them because they also say this, albeit in the Very. Last. Paragraph:

An argument against this option is that DoD’s retirement system and VA’s disability program compensate for different characteristics of military service: rewarding longevity in the former case and remunerating for pain and suffering in the latter. In addition, if fewer retirees applied for VA disability compensation because concurrent receipt was no longer available—since some consider the application process onerous—some veterans might bypass other VA services such as health care or vocational training. Moreover, some retirees would find the loss of income financially difficult.

“Financially difficult.” Ya think?

This bad idea, by the way, is not a new idea. In addition to being a CBO suggestion for many years running, it used to be the official policy, if you can believe it. Until 2003, military retirees eligible for disability compensation could not receive both their full retirement annuity and their disability compensation. This was known as the “VA offset.”

But then in 2003 Congress grew a soul and, in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2003, somewhat fixed the problem by creating two classes of retired military personnel who now receive payments that make up for part or all of the VA offset: retirees whose disabilities are linked to combat are eligible for CRSC and those who retire with at least 20 years of military service and who receive a VA disability rating of at least 50 percent are eligible for CRDP. CRSC is exempt from federal taxes, but CRDP is not, and some veterans would qualify for both payments but must choose between them.

Head spinning yet? Ours, too.

Bottom line: $139 billion in savings over eight years is not chump change, and we can probably all agree that reducing the size of the federal deficit is a good thing. But telling military veterans that they can’t get both the full pension they earned AND compensation for the very real, medically documented damage military service did their bodies — well, that’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare.

While some would say “that would never pass” (and they would hopefully be right), we are living in a reality where fairly frequently things no one thought would happen DO actually happen. A man walking on the moon? Sequestration? The President-elect? All of these were long shots that actually occurred.

So while it’s safe to say “don’t get too worked up about this,” it’s also a good idea to know that it’s out there, floating around like a gift from the CBO good idea fairy.

But it’s not a law — yet. It’s not even a proposed law — yet. Right now it’s just a horrible idea.

About the Author

Rebekah Sanderlin
Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. She writes the "Must Have Parent" column for Military.com. Her work has been published nationwide including in The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.