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Military Forum: Congress Right to Reject Two Levels of Death Benefits
Congress Right to Reject Two Levels of Death Benefits


About the Author

Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families. Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

Tom’s freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.

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Readers of Tom Philpott's "Military Update" column sound off

April 22, 2005

Although I am a supporter of President Bush, I disagree with him that improved military death benefits should only being paid to families of service members who die in combat. I'm glad to see Congress rejecting that idea.

My husband died while on active duty in November 2002. He died of a heart attack because none of the doctors would give him the care he needed. They all thought he was too young.

Because my husband wasn't in a tent in Iraq does that make his death any less tragic or devastating to his family? Does it not affect his family financially also? Does it not make him a hero?

America should recognize all service men and women as heroes, and if they come back safely then better for them and their families.

Dying in combat does not define commitment and service to country. My husband probably would be in Iraq now, if not for the military's mistake, and I would be waiting for him to come home.

Via e-mail


I am curious about the House bill (HR 269) that would open up the Montgomery GI Bill to service members who declined years ago to participate in the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP).

I am one of the estimated 60,000 active duty personnel who have no MGIB benefits. How likely do you think it is that HR 269 will make it through the House veterans' affairs or armed services committees?

Commander, USN
Naples, Italy


It's a long shot in the House. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced HR 269 in January. It wasn't referred to the House veterans' affairs subcommittee on economic opportunity until April 4 and by then had only eight co-sponsors, not a promising sign.

HR 269, which is the same as HR 879 in the 108th Congress, would provide a one-time opportunity for "VEAP decliners" still on active duty to enroll in MGIB for a $2700 contribution.

VEAP was unpopular but it also was the only veterans' educational benefit offered to new military entrants from Jan. 1, 1977 through June 30, 1985.

House Budget Committee guidance this year to the veterans committee didn't earmark funds to expand MGIB eligibility, which adds to the challenge of passage. However, military associations still argue that opening MGIB to remaining VEAP-era members remains a legislative priority, thus keeping hope alive.

-– Tom Philpott


Does military retired pay stop once a retiree is incarcerated in prison for a felony conviction?

Panama City, Fla.


Military retirees are dropped from retirement rolls only when convicted for national security violations under the Hiss Act (5 U.S. Code, Section 8311-8322.) More routine felony convictions typically are not cause for loss of retired pay, say Defense pay experts.

If a service member receives a courts martial conviction, the punishment might include separation without retirement if the member is not yet retired. However, once retired, most criminal convictions outside the military are not cause for termination or suspension of retired pay. Each situation is unique, however.

As originally enacted in 1954, the Hiss Act included a long list of criminal offenses for which military retired pay could be lost. The law was amended in 1961 and limited retired pay losses to crimes of national security.

–- T.P.


It's absolutely amazing and commendable that our president, senators and representatives so quickly organized and pushed through legislation to try to affect the life of one unfortunate young lady, Terri Schiavo.

It's infinitely more amazing -- and deplorable -- that the same individuals can't get their collective asses organized to pass legislation for tens of thousands of deserving military retirees, those who were promised free healthcare for life if they retired from the military with 20 or more years of honorable service.

Shame on every one of them for disregarding the promise.

Command Sergeant Major, USA-Ret.
Via e-mail


I am a 100-percent disabled veteran of WWII. I appreciated your column on Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) and his views on the VA medical care system. I agree with some of them.

VA Medical Centers are bound to be inefficient, at least in certain areas, money is not the cure. If they must compete with local hospitals, they may not have the best staff for every branch of medicine. Veterans should have the same opportunities to choose as the general public.

Where Medicare does not apply, service-connected disabilities should be treated on a fee basis, allowing veterans to receive care at local institutions but at VA expense.

For six years I pressed VA to open an outpatient clinic here in Santa Fe. I got all kinds of excuses. Finally, a study revealed that community-based outpatient clinics provide less expensive care than medical centers. We now have 1,400 veterans enrolled in our clinic. We need another doctor and more nurses yet the budget decision is in the hands of the director of the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque who might resent the competition.

Care should be given to disabled veterans whether injured in combat or in training. Adequate primary care is a way to reduce medical expenses in the long run. Yet many veterans are unaware of these VA clinics. Unfortunately, it can take a year to get an appointment here. More of the VA medical budget should be allocated to these clinics and less to the specialized and under-utilized hospitals.

Another problem needing Buyer's attention is medical malpractice. At VA medical centers, malpractice is treated as a compensation or pension claim, and ambles through the system at a snail's pace. Malpractice claims need to be handled by the VA inspector general's office and promptly deal with remedial action.

Santa Fe, N.M.

Letters may be edited for clarity or length. Write to Military Forum, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, send e-mail to militaryforum@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com

© 2005 Tom Philpott. All rights reserved.



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