Issue Date: September 27, 2004
Officials seek applicants for combat disability pay
$22 billion fund largely untapped
By Jim Tice
Times staff writer
Military officials say they are baffled as to why more disabled retirees are not lined up to receive Combat-Related Special Compensation.
CRSC, a $22 billion program endowed by Congress for all military retirees, has paid out just $100 million since payments first became available last year, according to Col. John Sackett, director of the benefits programs’ Army component. there are about 500,000 Army retirees who may qualify, but only 28,300 have applied, Sackett said.
He and other officials who administer CRSC said the lack of response is puzzling. Lawmakers established the program in December 2002 after disabled retirees and veterans’ organizations lobbied Congress to bring the military disability compensation system in line with benefits available to other federal workers.
Until recently, disabled military retirees — including those who received compensation for service-connected but non-combat-related disabilities — had their retirement pay reduced by the amount of any disability pay.
Qualified civil service retirees, meanwhile, received full regular retirement pay and disability compensation. Congress has adopted “concurrent receipt” legislation to restore full disability and retirement pay for many military retirees, but that law still leaves many retirees with reduced benefits.
CRSC supplements regular retirement compensation with monthly tax-free payments ranging from $105 to $2,300, depending on the percentage of disability.
The program was implemented in two phases. The first, called CRSC I, is restricted to retirees with at least 20 years of active duty or 7,200 reserve service points; a Department of Veterans Affairs disability rating of at least 60 percent — or 10 percent with a Purple Heart. Additionally, applicants must be receiving retirement pay and VA disability compensation.
Applicants in CRSC I are eligible to receive payments retroactive to June 1, 2003, or the date they are fully eligible.
Under the CRSC II program enacted in January, eligibility rules became less restrictive and benefits area available to retirees with at least 20 years of active duty and reservists age 60 or older who have a 20-year retirement letter. Payments are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004, or to the date an applicant becomes fully eligible.
Sackett said members of his staff pre-screens applications to determine what documents are needed to support a claim.
“In many cases, we’ve been able to speed the process by calling the applicants and getting the documents directly, rather than having to request them from VA,” he said.
Applications take several months to process, primarily because of a backlog that built up when the program opened in the summer of 2003.
“We received 16,000 applications in just two months, and are still working through that,” Sackett said.
As of mid-September, 28,393 applications had been received. Of that total, 11,799 have been approved and 7,557 denied. About 300 applications are awaiting VA records verification. The rest make up the agency’s current backlog.
The number of applications has tailed off sharply since the early months of the program, officials say, and now averages about 200 per week. Sackett said he suspects the name of the program may discourage many qualified retirees from applying.
“‘Combat-related’ is a phrase I’d like to de-emphasize, because there actually are four categories of disability that qualify a person for the compensation,” he said.
Those categories are:
• Instrumentality of war.
• Hazardous service.
• Conditions simulating war.
• Armed conflict.
“The ‘instrumentality of war’ can involve something like a clunk over the head with a rifle butt, or an injury from any military weapon,” Sackett said. “Hazardous service can involve an injury received from paratrooper duty, demolition duty or any other kind of hazardous duty.
“Conditions simulating war is a category that may be overlooked by a lot of people because it includes training activities that simulate war,” Sackett said. “Who has gone through military training and not, at one time or another, hurt themselves?”
“People who have injured themselves training, and who have a VA rating, can qualify if they can demonstrate how that injury was received,” he said.
“How is the key word,” Sackett added. “In your application, you must demonstrate with documents how you received the injury.”
Applicants can demonstrate the linkage with VA documents, medical records, award citations or any document that relates a disabling injury or illness with a specific event involving one of the four qualifying categories.
“Nobody here is looking to disapprove an application, but we have to have something to grab onto,” said Lt. Col. Dave Calderon, deputy director of the Army program. “If I can articulate a claim to somebody else based on your evidence, then that’s what we want.”
Issue Date: September 27, 2004
Clearing up CRSC confusion
Army personnel officials are begging to give away the service’s portion of a $22 billion pool for eligible retirees with disability ratings. Detailed information about the Army Combat-Related Special Compensation program is available at http://www.crsc.army.mil, or by calling (866) 281-3254 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Q How do I apply for CRSC?
A Application forms can be downloaded from the Web site. complete all sections of the DD Form 2860 (CRSC Application).
Q Where should I send my CRSC application?
A Applications must be mailed to the parent service you retired from. Applications cannot be submitted electronically. Mail to:
U.S. Army Human Resources Command
U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency (CRSC)
c/o The Adjutant General Directorate
200 Stovall St.
Alexandria, VA 22332-0470
Q What documentation will I need?
A It is recommended that you include copies of DD Forms 214 or 215, all Veterans Affairs Department rating decisions, Purple Heart citations or orders and other combat award citations and orders. Include any documentation you feel is relevant, including pages in your VA or service medical record. Send copies, not original documents. For a list of important documents, visit the Web site.
Q How will I be notified of the decision?
A Applicants will be notified in writing of all major stages of the processing, including approvals and disapprovals.
Q Are all retirees with a combat-related disability eligible?
A: Yes, if they meet the CRSC eligibility requirements. For a complete list of requirements, visit the Web site.
Q Do I have to have a VA disability rating to qualify?
A Yes. You may be eligible for CRSC because you have a combat-related disability, but to be paid compensation, you must be in receipt of VA disability compensation.
Q What kinds of duty are considered “hazardous service”?
A Hazardous service includes — but is not limited to — aerial flight, parachute duty, demolition duty, experimental stress duty and diving duty. For more information, visit the Web site.
Q How will I be paid?
A Combat-related compensation will be deposited to the same account where you receive retired pay. If your VA disability compensation offset exceeds your retired pay, it will be deposited to the account where you receive VA payment.
Q How much do I get?
A The payment will depend on your combined CRSC disability rating. This means that you will receive your full military retirement pay in addition to the VA disability percentage.
Q Is the compensation taxable?
Q Since I cannot receive both CRSC and Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments, can I choose which one I receive?
A The government is paying each retiree the higher dollar amount between the two payments. As the CRDP restoration progresses, you will be notified about potential future options.
Q Will I get more money if I receive Special Monthly Compensation?
A Possibly. The branch of service will evaluate each retiree’s disabilities and notify the Defense Finance and Accounting Service as to which ones are combat-related. DFAS will then notify eligible retirees of any increases to their combat-related compensation. The CRSC legislation stipulates that only combat-related disabilities will be considered when re-evaluating retirees’ CRSC rates. The gross monthly amount of CRSC cannot exceed the gross monthly amount of retired pay, regardless of SMC determination.