Are we keeping our promises to our veterans?
By Dan Cedusky, Col, USAR, Ret.
Ask your congressman to co-sponsor a bipartisan revision of the "Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees" Act, to address recent developments in the matter of the "broken promise" of health care for military retirees and to offer more meaningful remedies.
This past June the U.S. Supreme Court brought closure to a landmark court case when it decided not to consider a November 12, 2002 Federal Appeals Court ruling in a suit filed against the government of the United States on behalf of military retirees who had put their lives on the line for our country in World War II and Korea.
Retired Air Force Colonel George "Bud" Day, a highly decorated Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, filed a breach of contract suit on behalf of two retired colonels who contended they had been recruited into military service as young men with the promise of lifetime health care upon retirement after serving at least 20 years in uniform.
In 1956, long after Col. Day's clients signed up for military duty, Congress enacted the first laws that defined, and began to limit, the level of health care that would be provided to military retirees. These laws, which took effect in December 7, 1956, made health care available at military facilities conditioned on space availability - in other words, military retirees had to go to the end of the line and wait for health care. Subsequent laws removed them entirely from the military health care system when they became eligible for Medicare, resulting in a dramatic reduction in health care benefits.
The Appeals Court ruled against the plaintiffs on a technicality, arguing that promises by recruiters were invalid because only Congress could authorize military health care, which Congress had not done when the plaintiffs entered the service. Although the retired colonels lost their case on that technicality, we believe they won their moral battle on principle, as the Appeals Court concluded:
We cannot readily imagine more sympathetic plaintiffs than the retired officers of the World War II and Korean War era involved in this case. They served their country for at least twenty years with the understanding that when they retired they and their dependents would receive full free health care for life. The promise of such health care was made in good faith and relied upon. Again, however, because no authority existed to make such promises in the first place, and because Congress has never ratified or acquiesced to this promise, we have no alternative but to uphold the judgment against the retirees' breach-of-contract claim. . . .
Perhaps Congress will consider using its legal power to address the moral claims raised by Schism and Reinlie on their own behalf, and indirectly for other affected retirees.
The "Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act" was introduced in the 106th Congress so that Congress could, at long last, acknowledge the promises made in good faith to America's military retirees. Now that the Courts have ruled, it is more important than ever that Congress pass this bill. The bill was reintroduced in the 108th Congress by Rep. Chet Edwards as H.R. 58 and has 200 cosponsors.
Recently reintroduced was the bipartisan "Keep Our Promise Act" as H.R. 3474 to reflect the Appeals Court ruling that only Congress can, legally - and should, morally - make good on promises made to our military retirees. But more important, H.R. 3474 significantly corrects provisions of H.R. 58 that were rendered moot by actions the 106th Congress took to address inequities in military retiree health care when it enacted Tricare for Life (TFL), which restored military health care to Medicare-eligible military retirees.
To qualify for TFL, Medicare-eligible military retirees are required to pay Medicare Part B premiums. Retirees past age 65 are required to pay late fees for joining the system to qualify for TFL. To address the Court's admonition in Col. Day's case that Congress should make good on its promises of lifetime health care, H.R. 3474 waives both the Part B premium and the late fee for military retirees who joined the service prior to December 7, 1956.
H.R. 3474 also addresses broken promises made to military retirees who joined the service after 1956. Even though laws were on the books beginning in 1956 that defined and limited military retiree health care, the sad truth is that the empty promise of lifetime health care was used as a recruiting tool for many years beyond the scope of the Col. Day's case, to those who entered the military after 1956. This is documented in recruiting literature well into the 1990s.
These retirees, mainly from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf eras, are not old enough to qualify for TFL but do qualify for the military health care program known generally as Tricare. Tricare works well for many military retirees but fails to deliver quality health care for others. Some retirees cannot receive care at military bases due to lack of space availability. Base closures have cut off access for many retirees, and too many of them cannot find private doctors who will put up with bureaucratic inefficiencies or low reimbursements they have encountered with Tricare.
Military retirees who are not well served by Tricare deserve an alternative. Since it was first introduced in 1999, "The Keep Our Promise Act" has offered these retirees the option of enrolling in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). But enrollment in FEHPB requires substantial expenses that military retirees would not incur if Tricare worked properly, so H.R. 3474 improves this benefit for military retirees by reimbursing them for expenses they incur under FEHBP that they would not have been incurred under Tricare. This provision is cost-neutral to the government.
As the Appeals Court said, it is up to Congress to make good on the promises that were made - and broken - to our military retirees. They are not asking for handouts - they ask only for what was promised to them and what they earned. Make good on the broken promise of military retiree health care.
November 11, 2003
Source: Illinois Leader