FOX News Channel White House correspondent James Rosen falsely claimed that President George W. Bush had expanded veterans benefits by eliminating a longstanding provision that forbids disabled veterans from collecting their full military pension from the Pentagon on top of disability payments from the Veterans Administration. The truth about "concurrent receipt" -- an issue that Senator John Kerry highlighted in the presidential campaign -- is that Bush signed a compromise measure that falls far short of what veterans groups requested and what Kerry advocated.
Using Veterans Day as an occasion to report on Bush's record concerning veterans issues on the November 11 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, Rosen reported that "President Bush signed into law a measure allowing the dual payments, phased in over several years":
ROSEN: Senator Kerry also faulted the administration for opposing what is called "concurrent receipt," under which they can receive retirement pay and disability checks at the same time. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld did oppose concurrent receipt, a $58 billion imposition on his department. But Rumsfeld did not get his way.
In the end, President Bush signed into law a measure allowing the dual payments, phased in over several years.
But thousands of veterans are still forbidden from receiving the dual payments under the measure Bush signed, as several veterans groups have noted. The fiscal year 2004 National Defense Authorization Act (section 641) authorized concurrent receipts only for "military retirees with service-connected disabilities rated at 50 percent or more," according to the Congressional Research Service summary of the act. That means that thousands of disabled veterans with disability ratings of less than 50 percent are not disabled enough to receive both of the benefits to which they are entitled individually. Rosen did note that the measure is "phased in over several years"; in fact, the phase-in lasts ten years.
The advocacy group Paralyzed Veterans of America, which publishes the influential Independent Budget for veterans each year, is unsatisfied with these provisions. Its 2004 agenda explains (the group's use of a ten-year "phase-out" period refers to a gradual end to the ban on dual payments, rather than a phase-in of disability payments):
Although the offset is being phased out for veterans 50% or more disabled, this is especially inequitable where the military retiree is totally precluded from employment by service-connected disability and is still adversely affected during the 10-year phase-out period. Moreover, a disabled veteran who does not retire from military service but elects instead to pursue a civilian career after his or her enlistment expires can receive full compensation and full civilian retired pay. A veteran who has served this country for 20 years or more should have that same right [to receive a full pension that is not offset by his or her disability payments]. The veteran should not be penalized for choosing the military service as a career rather than a civilian career, especially where in all likelihood a civilian career would have involved fewer sacrifices and greater rewards.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, another influential veterans group, welcomed Bush's compromise as a first step but also remained unsatisfied. A VFW leader commented on the provision in a November 13, 2003, press release concerning the Defense Authorization Act quote:
VFW Commander in Chief Edward S. Banas, Sr. said: "The VFW recognizes that this legislation addresses only the most seriously disabled retirees. But it corrects a century old inequity and brings us one step closer to achieving the VFW's legislative goal of authorizing all disabled military retirees to receive their fully earned military retired pay without offset in the disability payments they receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Full concurrent receipt remains a priority goal for the VFW," Banas said.
Kerry's plan for veterans pledged full concurrent receipt for veterans: "John Kerry thinks this policy needs to end. As president, he will enact 'full concurrent receipt,' a policy that would do away with the archaic 1891 law and allow veterans with disabilities to receive both the retirement they've earned and the disability payments they are due."