Diagnosed With Leukemia, This Officer Was One Year From Retirement

Diagnosed With Leukemia, This Officer Was One Year From Retirement

By Kristin Davis

MOAA members will be participating in the association's annual Storming the Hill event April 18. One of the issues we'll bring to members of Congress is the fight for recognition for Chapter 61 retirees. This is part of a series in which those medically retired servicemembers discuss their experiences. 

Lt. Gary Robertson, USN (Ret), had served nearly 19 years in the Navy, first as an enlisted sailor then as an officer, when he collapsed in the passageway of an aircraft carrier in October 1998. 

“I was diagnosed with a type of leukemia for which the only known cause was exposure to ionizing radiation,” Robertson says. “I had served multiple tours on nuclear submarines.”

He was advised to have a bone marrow transplant. “They would not do it on active duty,” Robertson says. “If I waited to retire at 20 years, there was a very strong possibility that it would progress to the next stage, at which point my chances of survival went down to 20 percent. I retired at 19 years and six days with a 100 percent service-connected disability.”

Being a Chapter 61 retiree with cancer has changed Robertson's life. “I've had a lot of side effects from leukemia,” he says. “I've had both hips replaced. I have 50-percent lung capacity. I ended up with 50-percent bone capacity. I have chronic dry mouth and narrowing of my arteries.”

Robertson adds, “My well-deserved retirement now funds my 100-percent disability. Had I done 20 years, I would get both. But I probably would not be here today.”

MOAA supports ending the deduction of service-earned retirement pay to offset VA disability compensation for those servicemembers whose service-connected, non-combat related disability retirement under Chapter 61, 10 U.S.C. precluded them from serving at least 20 years. Click here to take action.