Veteran speaks up for retirement, disability pay - WSMV Channel 4

Veteran speaks up for retirement, disability pay

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U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville

Last week, senators heard testimony about the need to change a law many veterans say is hurting them. It's keeping hundreds of thousands from getting the retirement pay they believe they've earned.

Staff Sgt. Raymond Efta served his country for almost 17 years. He planned to serve in the Army for 20 years, then retire with full benefits.

"Everything was going well, and then my hips gave out," Efta said. "I didn't make my 20 years, but it wasn't my fault. I tried."

Efta had both hips replaced due to arthritis.

He was granted a medical retirement and given VA disability benefits. But because the disability is not due to combat, and because he didn't reach that magic 20 year mark, Efta can't get retirement pay.

"My retirement pay? I get zero," Efta said. "My retirement pay and my disability pay, I can't get both. And there are 638,000 veterans that are in the same situation that I'm in."

"Those two benefits should not cancel each other out," said U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-TN.

There are proposals in the U.S. House and Senate to tackle this issue and find a way to give both disability and retirement pay to the men and women who've earned it.

But similar bills have been coming up for years without gaining traction.

"We're trying to figure out in Congress how to pay for this when we already have one of the largest deficits in history," Cooper said.

"It doesn't make any sense for the lawmakers to fight over dollars and cents. Park an aircraft carrier for two weeks, and that would pay for a decade's worth of what we need," Efta said. "If I were to receive both my retirement pay and disability pay, it would make such a significant difference in my life."

Right now both bills are parked in committees with no sign of a vote coming soon, but Efta hopes that will change.

"I want the American people to know what's going on, because I don't believe anyone knows this is happening," he said. "I wanted the public outcry to be so great that the lawmakers would say, 'Yeah, now that the public knows this dirty little secret, we have to pass the law.'"

"In America, we can fix any problem we set our minds to. Congress is finally, belatedly, trying to focus on this," Cooper said.

Efta says he is missing out on about $20,000 a year in retirement pay because of the current law.

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