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.
Readers of Tom Philpott’s Military Update Column Sound Off.
I am a 22-year retiree of the Air Force Reserve. I saw your article about the effort to have reserve retirees recognized as “veterans,” and have been talking about it with leaders in Guam.
I am one of the victims of this situation, having served my country but today am not considered a military veteran under federal law.
Do you have any information on the bill before Congress that would amend or alter the definition of veteran?
JESUS P. TOGAWA
Yes. The Honor America's Guard-Reserve Retirees Act would grant veteran status to retired reserve component members.
Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.) are original co-sponsors of the House bill, HR 679. In the Senate, Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) have introduced a companion bill, S 629.
The House has passed this bill twice before and is expected to do so again this year. In the Senate, Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has opposed the bill, fearing that conferring veteran status will lead, over time, to new entitlement growth for these retirees.
The Military Coalition, an umbrella group of veterans’ service organizations and military associations, says the intent is to honor these veterans only, not to expand entitlements. Indeed, the bill states, “No person may receive any benefit under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs solely by reason” how the bill would modify Title 38 of the United States Code.
The coalition hopes to build grassroots support for the bill, particularly in Burr’s home state of North Carolina. – Tom Philpott
It seems that no matter what subject veterans and active duty service members discuss, it relates to how the Department of Defense and, most of all, the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing us at an alarming rate.
A district judge has made some severe rulings to admonish the VA on how many veterans die before their claims are processed, or how an appeal of a VA ruling add another year or more to the wait for a final decision.
Or the failure of VA hospitals and clinics where I live near Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va., enough so that I have asked for an IG investigation, which won’t happen in my lifetime.
The toxic water at Camp Lejeune, N.C., may generate more hearings on Capitol Hill but does anyone expect a solution? I am not bitter but am truly brokenhearted that my government lied to us for 40 years.
I want vouchers for the Marines, spouses and children living today with cancer and other ailments from that water, and compensation for families who have lost loved ones. Victims like Janey Ensminger and my wife come to mind. We need a Kenneth Feinberg to negotiate compensation settlements for Marine families.
I also want retired VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to be fired or to resign. I have the highest regard for the retired Army general but he has failed.
PROMISE BEING BROKEN
My husband had served 19 years in the Air Force when he died on active duty in 1995. We were on TRICARE Prime. I have used it ever since, as his surviving spouse. (I continue to qualify because I have not remarried).
My late husband would have earned considerably more money doing the same job as a civilian. But he stayed in the Air Force for the benefits, including health coverage, thinking he could earn a higher salary later after he retired. I do not receive a portion of his retirement pay and he never got to where he made more in retirement.
But TRICARE Prime, the military’s managed care option, has been a blessing and a support for our family for many years. But come October, because we live more than 40 miles from a base, we no longer will be covered under TRICARE Prime.
After my husband’s death I used VA Chapter 35 benefits for spouses and children of deceased military to get a degree in health education. It was to find work in that career field that I moved more than 40 miles from a military base.
If my husband had known these changes were coming, especially for me after he was gone, he would have gotten out of service after his first four years.
At age 57, I am nearing retirement myself and have very little saved. Because of having to move every three to four years during his service years, I never became vested in a retirement program where I worked. Again we figured we would have military retirement and benefits.
A year ago I was in the hospital for a week. No surgery was needed but the bill ran to $45,000. TRICARE Prime picked up all but my co-pay. After October 1 this type of situation will cost me $3,000 out of pocket before I hit the TRICARE catastrophic annual cap.
With the shift to TRICARE Standard, I will not be able to afford the preventative screenings I have been getting annually. And I don't know how to manage the medications I take either with the change. This is a big financial difference for people, especially those who have lost a loved one before Medicare age.
The government here is breaking promises. If they need to make changes, they should do it only for new troops coming in. They should not break promises to those who have already served and risked their lives, or break promises to care for surviving spouses of those who served and died.