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A new call by the Obama administration to give full payment of retired and disability pay to all disabled military retirees by Jan. 1, 2015, is very similar to a proposal that was rejected last year, with one major difference:
This time the White House has put some money behind its plan.
President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget request seeks to add $408 million to the military retirement trust fund in order to begin phasing in so-called concurrent receipt benefits in 2011 for severely disabled veterans who spent less than 20 years in the service.
But because nothing involving concurrent receipt is ever simple, the plan may not satisfy congressional budget rules.
The $408 million is part of almost $5 billion earmarked in the budget for the military retirement trust fund to pay for future retired pay specifically as a result of concurrent receipt legislation.
But the House of Representatives has strict rules covering changes in mandatory spending, which require that an increase in one place must be offset by either a cut somewhere else or a revenue increase — a budgeting process known as "pay-go" that has been the nemesis of supporters of allowing disabled retirees to concurrently receive full military retired pay and veterans disability compensation if they are eligible for both.
"We see the increase in the military retired pay trust fund in the budget. We don't see any offsets, and that could be a problem," said a congressional aide who has followed the concurrent receipt issue.
The first sign of whether the Obama proposal might work will come in April when the House and Senate budget committees prepare a 2011 spending and revenue guide, known as a concurrent budget resolution, which paves the way for allocation of funds to various congressional committees.
If the budget resolution includes language adopting the concurrent receipt funding, that would be sufficient for the House and Senate services committees to include the Obama plan in the 2011 defense budget.
A White House statement describing the concurrent receipt initiative does not clearly explain the details. It includes just two sentences: "For the first time, highly disabled veterans who are medically retired from service will be eligible for concurrent receipt of disability benefits from VA in addition to DoD retirement benefits. All medically retired service members will be eligible for concurrent receipt of VA and DOD benefits by 2015."
Congressional aides and administration sources said they expect the concurrent receipt plan, which will be included in legislative initiatives provided to Congress by the Defense Department, will be modeled on last year's proposal that died for the lack of funding.
That initiative is aimed, at first, at providing retired pay and disability pay without any offsets to retirees who served less than 20 years and are receiving military disability retired pay under Chapter 61, Title 10 of the U.S. Code. Those people are not now eligible for concurrent receipt, although Chapter 61 retirees who served 20 or more years have been covered.
Here is how the plan would work:
* Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, concurrent receipt would be provided to all Chapter 61 retirees whose retired pay is based on a disability rating of 90 percent or more.
* On Jan. 1, 2012, concurrent receipt would be extended to all Chapter 61 retirees with retired pay based on a disability rating of 70 percent or more.
* On Jan. 1, 2013, concurrent receipt would be extended to all Chapter 61 retirees with retired pay based on ratings of 50 percent or more.
* On Jan. 1, 2014, concurrent receipt would be extended to Chapter 61 retirees with retired pay based on a rating of 30 percent or more.
* On Jan. 1, 2015, all disabled veterans drawing both military retired pay and veterans disability benefits would be eligible for concurrent receipt of both payments. This final phase of the plan would, for the first time, provide full concurrent receipt to retirees whose disabilities are not related to combat or combat training and are rated at less than 50 percent.