Readers of Tom Philpott’s Military Update Column Sound Off.
How does the Supreme Court decision striking down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act affect same-sex spouses of military retirees?
Same-sex spouses of gay and lesbian military retirees also will be eligible soon for full spousal benefits including health care, base shopping and coverage under the military's Survivor Benefits Plan, Department of Defense officials confirm
"The department will implement benefit changes as soon as possible for same-sex spouses of our service members, which includes our military retirees," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DoD spokesman.
For SBP coverage, the department presumably will have to arrange a special "open season" enrollment period for married homosexual retirees to give them the opportunity to "buy" into survivor benefits. Officials didn't have further details at this time, however. -- Tom Philpott
TOWER LOOK BACK
I've just re-visited your article on the Department of Defense seeking legislative relief from the Tower COLA (cost-of-living-adjustment) look-back provision for High-3 military retirees, and I still find it appalling.
After 24-plus years in service, I can't even begin to tell you how many instances I've seen where a member was accidently overpaid. When government officials want their money back, they just take it and say "So sorry." This is a fact.
So here we have an instance where the government made a mistake, which was caught during an audit -- and I don't doubt for a minute somebody saw it earlier and chose to leave it alone. Either way, they're trying to climb away and say "Oh well" at retirees' expense, instead of doing the right thing.
Very disappointing to so many!
CRAIG S. TRACY
Defense Department compensation officials dispute the independent audit's contention that blocking the Tower look-back provision would have a significant impact on High-3 retirees.
"Since 2000, the first year High-3 members became eligible for retirement, there have been only two months in which High-3 retirees might have benefitted from the Tower look-back," officials said in a statement.
By contrast, the Congressional Budget Office estimated future retired pay for impacted High-3 retirees would forever be smaller than current law requires, by an average of $200 a year, saving the Military Retirement Fund more than $10 million annually. – T.P.
NO SLEEP APNEA SCAM
I take exception with the generalized idea that Sleep Apnea claims are a scam either because they had it before they came into the service or the condition can be corrected by surgery or by weight control.
While on active duty, I was diagnosed with this condition. I did not it before joining service and, as a former Army Airborne Ranger, I always have kept myself in excellent shape.
After leaving the military, I attempted to correct this problem with surgery. It only cut down on my snoring but not my apnea. Like most in the military I did experience numerous long, sleepless and crazy days and nights, combined with exposure to all types of harsh environments and enemy action. I'm not complaining because I volunteered for this.
However, if it's such an issue, then the VA should focus on studying why so many of military members are coming down with this condition. Average civilians don't endure the long and crazy hours we put in the military.
Physicians in and out of the military and the VA correlate the sharp rise in sleep apnea cases among Americans with the rise of obesity rates in the general population. Veterans have an additional incentive to seek treatment, over other workers, because it can result in service-connected disability compensation payments. – T.P.
I couldn't disagree more with Michael T. Webster's assertions that the number of veterans receiving benefits for sleep apnea has become a huge problem. In 2012, nearly 3.5 million total veterans received disability compensation but only 114,103 received compensation for sleep apnea. That is less than 3.3 percent.
Secondly, he states that the condition is the "darling of the disabilities." He couldn't be more wrong. I doubt if Mr. Webster knows much about the condition. If he did he wouldn't speak so flippantly about it as if it weren't a serious medical condition. If left untreated it can lead to stroke and or heart attack and death.
I can assure you the VA isn't handing out sleep apnea diagnosis and disability pay without checking. It is well equipped to evaluate and treat each patient prior to any disability rating being handed out. Veterans don't just go sign up like one might for unemployment benefits.
I too am a retired naval aviator. The Navy diagnosed me in 1998 as having moderate to severe sleep apnea. At the time I was in good physical condition and not overweight. Not everyone who has sleep apnea has excessive weight. My wife told me I woke up multiple times per night gasping for air. I always awoke with moderate headaches and felt fatigued as if I had not gone to bed. My loud snoring also interfered with her sleep as well. Everyone who has sleep apnea snores loudly!
To be evaluated, the Navy required me to bring home some diagnostic equipment and sleep several nights with it before returning the gear to have data downloaded and converted into usable information. Then I had to go to a sleep lab where I was wired up like a lab rat with countless leads all over my body to measure leg movement, snoring, brain activity and eye movement. I also was observed via infrared camera to monitor other specific physiological activity as well.
After diagnosis, I was given a CPAP machine. Unless a person is used to breathing pressurized air from an aircraft oxygen mask, it truly is hard to describe strapping on a mask every night while having forced air inflating the trachea to be able to properly breathe and thus sleep. Even one night without that machine will leave me with noticeable sleepiness and reduces my ability to remain alert and do my job, fly a plane, drive a car. Good luck maintaining your self-esteem in front of your spouse every night sounding like Darth Vader. No possible marriage intimacy problems there!
The Navy wanted me to undergo a couple of surgical procedures to try and alleviate the condition. They did a "rotor-rooter" job on the back of my throat, removing tonsils, the uvula and some other tissue. They also removed my lower lip from my jaw and cut the jaw so to be able to move it forward and reattach it with a titanium plate, then sewed everything back together. The idea was to move the tongue forward to make more room in the back of the throat. In a separate procedure, they opened my throat from the outside and tied my hyoid bone into an alternate position for the same purpose. None of this produced the desired results and was extremely painful. These procedures are no longer performed on sleep apnea patients due to a very low success rate. A nerve was severed in my jaw, leaving half my lower teeth numb as if just returned from a dentist.
I now have, and have had, flying jobs after retiring from the military in 2002. To remain medically qualified, I must remain under the care of a specialist who reports my condition to the FAA annually. I also must provide a smart card from my CPAP machine twice a year to have the data downloaded and reported to the FAA. The data proves treatment compliance and effectiveness.
Without a CPAP, I would be unable to maintain a flight physical medical clearance and unable to work anywhere in my profession. Within weeks I would be unable to function and the stress on my body would be like running a marathon every night. This leads to a host of medical issues, which can culminate in strokes, heart attacks and eventually death.
Does this sound like a real disability or am I just scamming the VA out of some disability compensation?
I readily concede that many others who were never in the military have the same issues but without benefit of the VA disability system.
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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.