The US government says “Thank-you for your service (but not really)”

I have been reading with interest about the California National Guard members who are being forced to repay the Sign-On bonuses.   And with equal interest I have been perusing the responses of the American public to these news stories.  And I am saying to myself – Wow, this is nothing new, this kind of stuff has been going on for years and years – military members being asked to pay back large sums of money, money they were promised by the US Government for their service.  The government promises their military members bonuses, their veterans – separation pay and disability pay and then decides at some later date, down the road, to take it all back.  And most veterans have no way of fighting the government, and I suspect many who are dependent on disability payments and in good faith accepted these sums of money are now finding themselves, and their families quite destitute because of the government’s demand for repayment.

I have experienced all of this, and know for a fact, there are thousands and thousands of veterans required to pay back Voluntary Separation Incentives Bonuses, Involuntary Separation Bonuses and all types of other payments issued to them on leaving the military.  I am one of those veterans.

In 2003, after being passed over twice for promotion to Lt. Col (I was told my visibility to the upper echelons was minimal, I didn’t do enough base-wide officer like stuff – because I was in the Pediatric clinic day after day – caring for the dependents on base – but that is a whole other story), I was given the option of either finishing an additional 2 years to complete my 20 years, thereby being eligible for retirement, or getting out and taking the Separation Bonus they were offering.  I had had enough of the military. My husband and I decided I would get out, and he would stay on Active Duty.  So I did.  I got out.

While out-processing, I was advised to submit a Veterans Disability claim, which I thought was the biggest waste of time, but I did it anyway, because that is what I was told to do.  Well, to my surprise, the Veterans Administration came back with a disability of 70%, because of some surgeries and long-standing issues I had documented in my military medical records, that I honestly thought were never a big deal, but the VA did.  The VA sent me a letter to say I would receive a certain amount of money based on this this disability percentage.

And sure enough, the payments started.  We came to depend on these payments, they were part of our monthly income.  And they continued until 2011, when they just stopped.   I called the VA to find out why they had stopped, and they said it was because I had to repay my Separation Bonus.  I said why – I thought that was kind of like a lump sum given to me for spending 18 years of my life in the military.  The VA said, well, you can’t have both.  You can’t receive a Separation Bonus and receive disability payments at the same time.  I said – Why not, that doesn’t make any sense.  They said – It’s the law.  I said – What kind of stupid law is that? The VA customer representative said – I don’t know, but it is a law.

I went looking for this law, because I was seething with anger, and feeling so incredibly betrayed. I needed answers. I found this quote on the VA Form 21-051

Disability Compensation: VA pays monthly compensation to veterans for disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service. This benefit is not subject to Federal or State income tax. Entitlement is established from the date of separation if the claim is filed within one year from separation. Generally, military retirement pay is reduced by any VA compensation received. Income from Special Separation Benefits (SSB) and Voluntary Separation Incentives (VSI) affects the amount of VA compensation paid.

This is another quote from a different site out of Minnesota:

In most cases, veterans cannot receive both retirement benefits and disability compensation

“Concurrent receipt” refers to a veteran’s eligibility to receive both military retirement benefits and VA disability compensation.  Until 2004, concurrent receipt was prohibited by federal law, so a person receiving military retirement pay was required to waive some or all of that pay in order to receive VA disability compensation.  The federal law was changed as of January 1, 2004, so that any military retiree with a VA disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or any Purple Heart medal recipient with a rating of 10 percent or higher, is eligible for full concurrent receipt of his or her military retirement pay and veterans disability compensation.

I cannot find the actual “law” itself – but I think the quotes above clearly point out you cannot have both. And in my case, I did not retire, so I had to pay the whole amount back.  Luckily, I didn’t have to pay back the taxes I had already paid on the Separation pay. I have heard of people having to do this, which is so ridiculous.  With no other options, I spent the next 5 years paying back the $84,000 I was paid for 18 years of service.  I did not receive a disability check for 5 years.  And during all that time, I kept thinking to myself, what if I had solely depended on that disability check? What if I and my husband had not had good paying jobs?  We would have been out on the streets in a matter of weeks, because the disability payments from the VA just stopped so suddenly and without warning.  The VA said they sent me a letter, but I never received it.

Here is my biggest issue with all this.  Say for example you had two active duty members – both served 20 years and were eligible for retirement. However, one of the active duty members sat behind a desk his entire career, while the other went into combat, and was injured.  According to the way the government does things, they both will get paid EXACTLY the same amount when they retire, because military member that saw combat cannot receive BOTH retirement and a disability payment.  Does that make any sense at all? I tried to explain this in a flurry of letters I wrote to President Obama and multiple Congressmen.  Dianne Feinstein sent a nice letter back to say she was very sorry about all this, but it was the law.  The only other response I received from anyone else was incessant emails from Obama’s camp requesting campaign contributions.  The gall of it all!

I paid back all the money and began receiving disability checks again, just this year, I think in February.  In May I received a letter from the VA which stated I now owed them an additional $27,000 and I was scheduled to begin repaying it this August.  Well, needless to say I went NUTS! I called the VA and asked why this was happening AGAIN.  They said because I was on Active Duty in 2011, which I was not.  I went to my Veterans Service Office and they called and were told the exact same thing. I kept calling and could get no answers.  The payments stopped again.  On a whim, I called the VA one more time, and was on hold for at least 100 minutes, if not longer (I managed to fold a load of laundry, balance my checkbook, empty the dishwasher, while waiting) and the VA customer service representative (who was amazingly nice and apparently knowledgeable) really looked into it, and said his records indicated I was being charged the $27,000 because I wasn’t entitled to receive payments for dependents, even though I had just spent the last half hour folding my “non-existent dependents” underwear. He explained to me their records were incomplete, they did not have the proper documentation.  I sent in the requested paperwork and the payments have been reinstated (but how long they will continue, is anyone’s guess).

I suspect if I hadn’t had the perseverance to keep calling – I would still be paying back that $27,000.  I feel for these men and women who are disabled, and leave the military after serving their country and getting nothing but grief and aggravation in return.  It is truly horrible our country’s veterans are being treated so indifferently. And so when I read about what the California National Guard members are going through, I am deeply saddened that this is happening to them, but also glad that this information is coming to light. 

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15 replies »

  1. This is why active duty personnel and their dependents can’t sue the military. If they could, there would be so many lawsuits of merit, the military would cease to function. Hmmmm…….If this happened in the civilian world, before the depositions started rolling, the money would be rolling, back into your bank account! It is a travesty and it makes me angry just to read it.

    • I read while I was doing the research for this post, that if you asked the homeless veterans how they arrived on the streets, the majority of them would say they were waiting for their disability payments to start back up.

    • Right. But if you separate with Separation pay, as I did, they will make you pay it back out of your disability payments, which could take years ( I read one comment where the veteran would not receive disability payments until 2034). What the heck?!

  2. I never received a reenlistment during my career and I’ve stayed away from the VBA. I have this bad feeling the VBA would screw up my retirement given half a chance.

  3. Shocking. There should be some legal help through this minefield when it happens.. Someone in the know who can deal on your behalf and not leave you hanging in the wind. I’d expect more understanding of a Government towards the personnel who have served in the armed forces.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Hi David. It’s so nice to hear from you. I hope all is well. My situation I think is pretty much resolved, but I think about all those kids coming back foverseas

    • Whoops my comment went before I was finished, I was trying, very poorly I might add, to say there are so many veterans out there getting treated so poorly and they have nowhere to turn.

  4. And these people want to take complete control over our Healthcare system I can’t wait (not) I am so sorry you have had to go through this . Dm

    • Thanks! It’s not so much me I worry about but all the other people that completely depend on their disability checks. It is so arbitrary in the way the government decides to hold their money. It can be 5 years, or 10, I even read they went after one guy’s money 21 years later. That’s ridiculous. I wrote this post to inform others that this California National Guard incident is just really the tip of the iceberg.

  5. Wow, that makes me sick! If they’re the ones telling people to sign up for this stuff and giving out bonuses, then any mistakes should be on them. (And a bonus should be separate from disability anyway IMO.) I had never heard of this or that news, but it truly is awful how veterans are treated.

    (And hey, friend, glad to see you on here!)

    • It seems to be happening to so many veterans, and really destroying their lives, because the VA will creep in unnoticed – could be 10 years down the line and just decide to take everything back. It really is such an enormous disservice and a horrible way to treat people that were just doing the right thing for their country.

      (It’s nice to see you too – I miss all my blogging friends since I exiled myself. And do you think my book is completed yet? No – I am only about halfway through.)

  6. I was sadly one of these people. I received about 39K after taxes when I was separated in 2013 due to force reductions. I spent 1-1 1/2 years after trying to get a job. I went homeless with my ex and 2 kids. The VA stepped in and got me housing at least, and helped me file for disability. A year and a half after filing I finally got a 80% rating, but found I wouldn’t receive a dime until Jul 2017 because of the payback. Someone really needs to change this “law”. Its utter BS.

    • This is awful. When the VA started messing with me I thought it was a fluke. But after doing my research, I couldn’t believe how many veterans were being treated so badly, I read story after story of horrible situations where veterans’ families were financially decimated and no one seems to care. I wrote Congressman and no one cared, only Feinstein wrote back to say there was nothing that could be done. If I knew where to turn, I would fight for this. I hope things turn around for you. Even though I have started getting my disability payments again, I don’t count on it showing up in my account next month, or the next month.

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