08/17/04 — Jones says he is fighting for veterans right to health care

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Jones says he is fighting for veterans right to health care

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on August 17, 2004 2:01 PM

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones said Monday in Goldsboro that he is fighting for veterans to get health benefits, but he does not expect the legislation to pass this year.

Jones told the Wayne County Alliance of Retired Military that he is a co-sponsor for the Keep Our Promise Act, which is to restore health care coverage to retirees. But he does not believe it will be passed this year.

Several of those in attendance said they have TriCare insurance and are having trouble finding doctors locally who accept it.

"All military retirees need this health care now," said John Armstrong, chairman of the Alliance of Retired Military. "This health care was promised and earned, and we all know that."

Jones spoke of the increasing difficulty for military retirees to access medical benefits. Alliance members, whose purpose is to help restore health care benefits they say were promised to them, filled the auditorium of Wayne Community College.

Jones, whose district includes Wayne County, said he voted in March to not increase the Foreign Aid Bill from $20 billion to $23 billion. Instead, he said, the $3 billion difference should be put toward veteran and retiree health care. The measure, however, did not pass. He encouraged the Alliance to remain politically active.

"Don't give up and don't let the Congress give up," said Jones.

A $22 billion Concurrent Receipt Benefit was approved last year, which means that qualified military retirees will get paid both their full military retirement pay and their V.A. disability compensation.

The benefit will be phased in over 10 years. Jones said he is trying to expand it to cover more people.

Only those who are military retirees with 20 or more years of service and have a service-related disability rating of 50 percent or higher qualify to get the pay. The benefit will affect more than 250,000 disabled military retirees.

Jones is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which approved eliminating the Social Security offset under the Survivor Benefit Plan by increasing the annuities paid to survivors of military retirees who are 62 or older. Beneficiaries of the plan face a 20 percent drop in their annuity once they reach age 62, and thousands of these survivors were never told about this cut. The government reduces the benefits to offset what the survivors receive from Social Security.

Jones said there is both a Senate and House version of the plan in the National Defense Authorization Act. The difference between the two versions is how long it will be phased in. The House version would allow the benefits to come sooner. Jones is pushing for the House version.

"We are working on this issue; I think it is terribly, terribly unfair."

The next meeting of the Alliance is scheduled for Sept. 20 in the Wayne Community College Auditorium. A representative from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is scheduled to speak on TriCare.