As it stands, only veterans who served 20+ years and have a disability rating of 50% or more are able to receive full retirement benefits and disability compensation. Data reports that at least 42,000 veterans are currently ineligible to receive full benefits for both due to the current law. This means their military longevity pay/retirement benefits are REDUCED by their disability compensation amount. If it passes, The Major Richard Star Act would change all of that.
Who was Major Richard Star?
Star was a former combat engineer with multiple overseas tours. He joined the Army in 1988, and his first deployment was Operation Desert Storm. He also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan later in his career. He worked on road construction and IED clearance. During his last deployment, he began experiencing difficulty breathing and coughing up blood. The doctors in Kuwait told him this was due to poor air quality and asthma. After returning to the States in 2018, Star was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which doctors linked to his exposure to burn pits while deployed. He began chemotherapy and surgery for his condition, and was shocked and dismayed when he learned his VA disability pay was offsetting his longevity pay he’d earned while serving. He began advocating for veterans like himself, while battling lung cancer. He passed away in February 2021. His wife Tonya, who left her job to care for him, continues to fight for veterans by pushing for legislation that will allow concurrent receipt of full benefits regardless of years served. This was a promise she made her husband as he was dying.
The Bill is Reintroduced
The bill had support from both chambers of Congress in 2020, but failed to pass and had to be reintroduced when the new Congress was sworn in. U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jerry Moran, and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jon Tester reintroduced the bill on February 22, 2021.
“When it comes to our nation’s disabled veterans, we’ve got to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that’s prevented them from getting the full benefits they’ve earned,” said Tester. “The Major Richard Star Act would fix the unfair offset that prevents thousands of veterans living with the wounds of war from accessing both their disability benefits and retired pay. And it honors the service and sacrifice of Major Richard Star, whose legacy lives on in our continued fight to ensure our men and women in uniform get the assistance they deserve.”
“All active duty and retired military personnel deserve to receive the full care and benefits they have earned, not just fragments offset by government red tape,” said Crapo. “The Major Richard Star Act will ensure medically retired and combat-injured veterans receive both military retired pay and disability compensation earned through their service to our nation. I join the nation in mourning the recent loss of Major Richard Star, and I remain dedicated to improving veterans benefits, including fixing unfair discrepancies such as this, to honor his legacy.”
“Congress must work to make certain our veterans aren’t being shortchanged by unfair rules that result in one benefit they’ve earned as a servicemember canceling out another benefit they’re entitled to as a veteran,” said Moran. “This bipartisan legislation would ensure combat-wounded veterans are able to receive their full disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs and retirement pay from the Department of Defense without having their disability pay deducted from their retirement pay.”
Change Is Needed
The Major Richard Star Act would be a big step in eliminating some of the bureaucratic red tape preventing veterans from receiving the benefits they have earned and deserve. However, there is still much more work to be done, as the Veterans of Foreign Wars report that there are over 450,000 veterans who are still unjustly denied their full retirement pay.