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Just One Vote


J. D. Pendry



What do you reckon motivates politicians?Am I alone in seeking the answer to this question?If I am, just stick with me, because Iím often a little naÔve about such things and it may take me a while to sort out this one.For that reason, Iím adding some addresses to the cc line of this BunkerTalk.Maybe one of them will write us back and let us know the answer to my mystery.


President George W. Bush is our Commander in Chief.He is unquestionably a man of faith and integrity who likely got much of the military and veteran vote.He certainly represents fresh air where once there was a lot of Arkansas swamp gas.His position on one particular issue does puzzle me, however.


Senator Robert Byrd is the senior senator from my wild and wonderful home state.I canít remember when he wasnít a senator and practically everything in the state is named for him.Senator Byrd is known for his knowledge of our constitution and his often passionate and theatrical orations on the floor of the Senate. Heís Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.


Senator Jay Rockefeller is our transplanted New York millionaire West Virginia Senator.I guess since Arkansas sent one to New York, I probably shouldnít bring that up.Senator Rockefeller is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.He has made some positive differences for veterans.


Congresswoman Shelley Moore-Capito is the representative from the wild and wonderful second Congressional District.Iím not sure how they drew the lines for this district, but it runs from the eastern panhandle of the state, which is little more than a DC suburb, to the middle of it where I sit.Ms. Capito is the daughter of one of our past governors, Arch Moore.Our Congresspersons have a difficult time.Since their terms are only 2 years, my impression is that they have time for little else but election campaigns.This district is important to the Republican Party and she narrowly beat the same guy sheís running against now the last time.Heís a lawyer with much money to spend and heís trying to purchase a congressional seat with it.


I thought Iíd introduce these folks to you so that youíd know with whom Iím speaking.Iíve written to three of them before about the topic that Iíll get to in a minute.In response, I received a machine signed letter from Senator Byrd advising me how important my issue was to him and how he co-sponsored legislation that would resolve it.From Senator Rockefeller, I received an auto-responder email message that thanked me and telling me that Iíd soon hear from the Senator on my issue, but advising me that issues raised by residents of wild wonderful had priority for him, so it may be a while if Iím not a resident.Iím still waiting Senator.I didnít even get an acknowledgement from Ms. Capito, not even from the auto-responder.I had to use the Write Your Representative link, so maybe my letter ended up in a cyber pigeonhole somewhere. I donít think that it was a rude or unprofessional letter, but I donít converse everyday with politicians, well not the elected ones anyway, so maybe my frank old NCO approach didnít work.


My issue is concurrent receipt.In case youíre not up on it, itís the 110 year old law that reduces military retired pay dollar for dollar for any VA disability compensation received.


Itís interesting that 83 percent of our Senators and 90 percent of our Representatives put their names on needed legislation yet took no action to make it a reality.Now, itís hanging out until after the elections and will be there for a lame duck congress to deal with or not.Their timing is good.I fear theyíll continue to court us right up until the votes are cast, then I expect itíll be the same old story.We had an acronym in the Army that describes what I expect will be the outcome once again, BOHICA.


Here is where the legislation stands, or lies dormant, as Iím writing this.The ďfirstĒ Senate version repeals the concurrent receipt law in its totality and does it now.The House version phases it in over five years and then only for those rated by the VA as 60% or more disabled.It gets better. Listen to this.The House voted 391 to 0 to have their committee accept the ďfirstĒ Senate version Ė total repeal.The Senate then offered to accept the House version if they could give the President authority to delay implementing it on a yearly basis for ďnational securityĒ reasons.Hereís the next twist.Some, who support the administrationís position, placed a provision on the VA funding bill stating that if any concurrent receipt legislation should pass after Oct. 1, 2002, no military retiree subsequently seeking disability compensation or an increase in compensation would be eligible for concurrent receipt.Doesnít that make you want to run right out and sign up to serve?After this, they pigeonholed it and ran off to campaign.I believe that I and other Veterans got a clear message from that inaction.These guys and gals run our country, but I have to question, in this case, for whose interests they are looking out.


I have a few more thoughts on this before I let our elected leaders get back on the campaign trail.I try hard to understand some of the things I hear on this topic.Especially the comments attributed to the Presidentís Department of Defense representatives.Iím speaking particularly of the comments of Mr. Rumsfeld and his assistant, Mr. Chu.Theyíre telling the world that paying disabled, retired veterans what theyíre due will endanger soldiers serving now or somehow take something from them.Rumsfeld actually said that if concurrent receipt were funded, funding for health care would have to be reduced.Is anyone listening to that?Maybe the DoD can clear up something for me.Iím not as good with arthmitricks as obviously they are.Hereís my question.Each year, the DoD budgets money for and is funded by Congress to pay military retirement accounts.Now, if a retiree is rated disabled by the VA, his retired pay is reduced by an amount equal to what the VA pays in disability.My question for DoD accountants is, what did you do with the budgeted money you gained when you reduced my retirement?Can I please have an accounting?


Iím more fortunate than many of my peers, so this is an issue of fairness and principle for me more so than one of money, although the extra would be helpful.Iím disabled, but fortunately Iíve acquired skills and education enough over the years which allow me to have a job where my disabilities are not too much of a hindrance, although I do end most days in some amount of pain.


Hereís what Iíd like my elected leaders to consider.First, a person, let alone a family, cannot live on an enlisted personís retired pay.Most enlisted people are not fortunate enough to attain the highest enlisted rank and therefore, if they retire, leave the military at around 20 years.Some of those monthly retirement checks, for men and women who spent half of their lives in service by then, are barely a thousand dollars each month.There are veterans who receive that much each month who did not retire and have no service-connected disabilities.Others who have served one term or less of service, receive much more than that for their service-connected disabilities without a reduction of any other income or retirement.Iím thankful that our country is able to pay them what they earned through their service to our country.Most enlisted people retiring at 20 years of service do not have the credentials necessary to get jobs like you and I have which allow us to mostly sit on our wide rear-ends all day.No, unfortunately, they have to work, much of it physical, blue-collar kind of work.Having a physical disability makes this quite difficult if not often impossible.There is something else about which to think.At about that time in a personís life, itís a real good possibility that children are in or nearing college.That costs much money.If youíre a retired enlisted person who averaged moving once every three years, you are now likely to have a new mortgage to pay.


Consider those few things, please, while you help me define disability compensation and retirement pay.When one becomes disabled while working, he or she is compensated with an amount of money that is supposed to make up for the lost earning power resulting from the disability.Correct me now if Iím off track.When a person serves an organization for a number of years, say 20 years in the military, they receive retirement pay benefits for their long service to the organization. So how is it that you can justify using one to reduce the other?Mr. Rumsfeld, Chu little help?Senators?Congressperson?


Iím gullible.Itís a problem Iíve had most of my life.I expect that people in the position to do the right and honorable thing will.Normally, after the third or fourth time that they donít, I start to learn that not everyone is interested in what I believe is the right and honorable thing to do.


Iíve been waiting for Senator Byrd to walk out on the Senate floor and make one of those passionate speeches demanding that we right a wrong.Iíve been waiting for Senator Rockefeller to pound the podium and remind everyone that the great state of West Virginia has the highest per capita rate of military veterans of any state in our country and how itís high time we took an important step toward correcting an injustice.Iím just waiting for Congresswoman Capito to answer my letter.Iíve been waiting for my President and Commander in Chief to look the country in the eye and ask why are we even debating this issue?Give me the legislation that rights this wrong to those who have given the most to our country.Iím still waitingÖ.


I canít do much about it.After all, in the grand scheme of things Iím only a single vote - just one.But, I am one vote that has membership in a fraternity of several hundred thousand votes.Itís time for all of us to make a decision and to do the right thing.


Copyright © 2002, James D. Pendry, All Rights Reserved