May 26th is Memorial Day, a day for us to reflect, honor and remember all of our military members who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
The men and women who put their lives on the line so we can all live in peace deserve the very best benefits our country can provide. I don’t think anyone in this country would disagree.
That is why it has been so upsetting to see in the news lately the shamefully long waits our veterans have had to endure for medical treatment in VA hospitals. Learning that 40 veterans died while waiting for medical attention is beyond heartbreaking.
However, there are some benefits that work for our veterans –and that we should support. For example, the coordination of benefits with the Social Security Administration and the Veteran’s Administration works well to aid our veterans. The coordination process continues to evolve today. Beginning in January, 1955, President Eisenhower chartered a commission tasked with modernizing veterans’ benefits clarifying their relationship to government social insurance programs (such as Social Security). Thanks to that commission, if you had military service earnings for active duty (including active duty for training) or had inactive duty in the Armed Forces reserves (such as weekend drills), you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings (and thus for the first time became eligible to receive Social Security benefits).
This hard-fought collaboration means that now soldiers and their family members can receive disability and death benefits from both the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration without offset or loss of benefits.
Additionally, since October 1, 2001, another improvement was added. If you’re a service member who becomes disabled while on active duty, regardless of whether your disability was related to your military duty, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will expedite the decision process on your disability benefits. This substantially speeds up a process which can otherwise consume the better part of two years before adjudication before a hearing officer in Maine.
Memorial Day is a time to honor the brave men and women who sacrificed – and continue to sacrifice – their lives for our country. It is also a time we should use to reflect on how our country takes care of the health and disability of our service members.
While we remember our service members who have died in the defense of freedom I hope we do not fail to also remember those who return to civilian life with disability. Those men and women deserve our thanks and support – whether it’s through assistance finding work, support in securing housing, or access to quality medical care. Let us build upon the successful programs serving our veterans and quickly find solutions to the programs that aren’t working. Our soldiers deserve no less than the best.
About the author: Suzanne L. Johnson is an attorney and partner at the workers’ rights firm, McTeague Higbee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 800-210-8740.