Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following remarks during the consideration of H.R. 2990, the Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act of 2009. The bill includes a one-year fix to relieve the disabled veterans tax by expanding concurrent receipt, which would make more disabled veterans eligible to receive both military retired pay and veterans disability compensation. H.R. 2990 was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 404 to 0.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 2990, the Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act of 2009. The disabled veterans tax has for decades prevented retirees from receiving the full benefits they have earned in military retired pay and veterans disability compensation.
“The one group of retirees that have endured great hardship, but have been among the last to be embraced by reform, is the disabled retiree with less than 20 years of service. This group of retirees had been ignored by even the most reform-minded advocate until the Democratic Congress acted to include them in the Combat-Related Special Compensation program when the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 was adopted. And yet this group of retirees has perhaps the most compelling story to tell. Many of these service members were on track to serve a full military career but were blocked from serving 20 years because of their disabilities. It is this group of retirees that were disabled at younger ages and often with young families. As a result, they are often the most financially stressed.
“However, President Obama took a definitive step forward in support of disabled retirees with less than 20 years of service when he proposed legislation in his budget request for fiscal year 2010. The President’s proposal would phase in full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation for these deserving veterans over five years.
“We share the President’s view that our veterans and their families, and particularly disabled retirees with less than 20 years service, have made tremendous sacrifices for our country, and this bill moves us closer to fulfilling the President’s pledge and the Commitment of Congress to give disabled veterans full access to the benefits they deserve.
“While H.R. 2990 is an important step, we must recognize that it is an incremental step that reaches only the most severely disabled over the first year of the President’s phased implementation plan. Congress has been working to find a way to permanently eliminate the disabled veterans tax for many years, but fixing this entitlement program is an immensely difficult task. I am grateful to all of my House colleagues who have worked to find the budget offsets needed to provide this temporary fix for our veterans. As we pursue this legislation, we will continue to do all we can to honor our country’s debt to our veterans and their families.
“I would note that H.R. 2990 also includes a number of valuable changes that enhance Federal civilian retirement benefits. In addition the bill extends expiring authorities concerning a wide array of bonuses and special pays that are critical to military recruiting and retention.
“H.R. 2990 is a good bill and an important bill that supports the President’s initiative regarding disabled retirees and fulfills the long-standing commitment of Congress to provide for the welfare of disabled veterans. There still remains much to be done to find a permanent solution and H.R. 2990 provides the framework for future action. Our veterans have never quit on America, and you can be certain that we will never quit on our veterans. I urge my colleagues to support the Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act of 2009.”