Thanks in no small part to the grassroots work of MOAA members, nearly 400 members of Congress have signed on to co-sponsor the Major Richard Star Act, which would end the dollar-for-dollar offset of DoD retirement pay and VA disability pay faced by more than 50,000 combat-injured veterans. But unlike other popular defense-related measures, it has yet to be included in the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“Wait a second, you’re telling me that two-thirds of Congress supports the Star Act, and it’s not in the NDAA?” asked one dedicated Star Act advocate and MOAA member. “Wow, I guess I would have failed that part of high school civics class.”
Many supporters of the bill, both inside and outside of MOAA, want answers. Here’s a look at where the Star Act stands, why it hasn’t been added to the NDAA, and what’s next.
The Senate has yet to vote on its NDAA version, but the Star Act was not included in the version passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), giving it a slim chance of reaching the final legislation. While MOAA does not expect NDAA inclusion this year, continued grassroots engagement with legislators, especially during this busy season, is critical to keeping the issue on the radar for rapid action in the 118th Congress, which begins its work in January.
That’s why we’re asking you to urge your elected officials to include the Star Act in the FY 2023 NDAA as part of the House-Senate conference process – these messages are important to maintain pressure and set conditions for next year.
[TAKE ACTION: Urge Your Legislators to Support Concurrent Receipt]
Timing Is Critical
When the House passed its version of the NDAA on July 14, the Star Act did not yet have the support of 290 House members (there are 323 co-sponsors as of Nov. 8). Because appropriations must start in the lower chamber, the SASC did not include the Star Act in its version due to cost concerns, despite the support of 67 Senate co-sponsors.
The Star Act did reach the significant 290-sponsor milestone to earn entry on the House consensus calendar this year, and a similar level of support early in the 118th session will ensure enough time for the bill to reach the House floor – it’s a decisive point that provides a marked advantage to achieve this advocacy objective.
Who Is Against the Star Act?
Some lawmakers believe we must cut personnel costs to pay for modernization. They miss the mark on protecting the all-volunteer force amid the current recruiting crisis and oppose any spending on personnel, even for combat-injured veterans.
Financially conservative lawmakers typically agree that the offset – reducing earned retirement pay because of a combat injury – is an unfair tax, while even the most socially liberal lawmakers can agree it is important to support those injured in combat. Where problems arise is the so-called “pay-as-you-go,” or PAYGO, rule.
PAYGO requires any bill including an increase in mandatory spending also must include a designated way to pay for that increase. This rule is the obstacle for a simple floor vote, but overcoming the rule is possible: Congressional leaders can agree to waive it, to designate cuts to spending elsewhere to cover the cost, or to increase revenue via tax or other methods.
A similar fight took place as MOAA led efforts to repeal the Survivor Benefit Plan-Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (SBP-DIC) offset, better known as the “Widows Tax.” After decades of advocacy, the PAYGO rule was waived as the repeal passed within the FY 2020 NDAA. Full repeal will take effect early next year.
Does Your Elected Official Support the Star Act?
Check these links to see whether your House member or senator has co-sponsored the Major Richard Star Act. If not, call MOAA’s toll-free Capitol switchboard – 866-272-MOAA (6622) – to connect with your legislators' offices.
MOAA does not advocate for a way to pay for the Star Act, as we do not have the visibility on all the options available (as much as we’d like to). However, it’s important to tell your elected officials not to place the cost for the Star Act on the backs of the uniformed community – by raising pharmacy co-pays, for example, or increasing processing fees for VA home loans.
Make Your Voice Heard
MOAA outlined other talking points on the Star Act as part of materials prepared for Advocacy in Action, our spring advocacy campaign. Some highlights:
- Retired pay is paid by DoD for completed years of service, and disability compensation is paid by the VA for lifelong injury. These are two different payments for two different purposes.
- Reducing retired pay because of a combat related disability is an injustice.
- No other federal system would reduce retirement pay due to disability.
The Star Act would provide concurrent receipt of retired pay and VA disability for those injured in combat and forced to retire before reaching 20 years of service. These combat-injured veterans retire early at no fault of their own. Their retirement pay is calculated by years of service and grade achieved – far less than a full retirement, had they reached the 20-year threshold.
Currently, those injured in combat and forced to retire early (under the authority of Chapter 61) have their retired pay reduced, like a tax, for every dollar of VA disability they receive.
Many combat-injured veterans were unable to work when they came home, and their spouse or loved one had to become a full-time caregiver, compounding their financial burden.
The FY 2004 NDAA acknowledged DoD is responsible for retired pay and the VA is responsible for lifelong disability compensation: Two different payments for two different purposes, as stated. Unfortunately, cost was a stumbling block –those who were injured in combat and forced to retire before reaching 20 years of service were left behind with that legislation, which authorized concurrent receipt for those who reach 20 years of service and have a VA disability rating of 50% or more.
It is time to correct that injustice.
Activate your networks and share this call to action link with MOAA members and other supporters. Only by keeping this issue at the forefront at the start of the 118th Congress can we build the momentum required to end this offset and move forward on achieving concurrent receipt for all veterans.