Until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, military veterans were not allowed to receive both military retirement pay and Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) disability benefits. Under a Civil War-era statute, the Pentagon docked retirement pay dollar-for-dollar up to the amount of disability benefits from the VA. The requirements for receiving money from these three sources have changed over time since 2004.
Congress changed that law in 2002, gradually restoring military retirement pay to veterans also drawing disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The report states that beginning in January 2014, veterans who qualify receive the full amount of their VA disability compensation and Department of Defense (DOD) retirement benefits concurrently with no offset. Military personnel who do not qualify have the option of choosing between receiving DOD retirement offset by VA disability compensation or waiving DOD retirement and receiving VA disability compensation. SSDI benefits do not affect the receipt of DOD disability or non-disability retirement.
A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, notes that over 59,000 military veterans were “triple dippers” last year. These individuals received benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, military retirement pay and and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The total cost of the individuals receiving money from these three programs was approximately $3.5 billion. There were about 1.9 million Department of Defense (DOD) non-disability and disability retirees at the time the data was analyzed by GAO.
The GAO report has been issued as the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund faces serious financial problems. The Social Security Board of Trustees projects that the SSDI trust fund, which provides benefits to individuals who cannot work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least 1 year or result in death, will be exhausted in 2016 and notes that changes designed to improve the financial status of the SSDI program are needed sooner rather than later.
Of the more than 59,000 people who received benefits from three sources, GAO provided this data:
- A total of 40,179 (68 percent) each received between $25,000 and $74,999 in total compensation.
- A total of 2,304 (4 percent) each received concurrent payments of $100,000 or more, with the highest beneficiary, who retired at pay grade O-8, receiving $208,757 in fiscal year 2013.
- The age of the individuals receiving concurrent payments ranged from 19 to 66, with almost half (28,626, or 48 percent) of the individuals being age 60 or above as of January 2013.
- The combined benefits from the three programs for individuals age 60 or above totaled approximately $1.7 billion.
- A total of 48,127 (81 percent) had a VA disability rating equal to or greater than 50 percent.
- A total of 10,289 (17 percent) received compensation due to a combat-related disability.
One individual received payments totaling $208,757 from the program and this was the highest figure uncovered by the GAO report. 101 people received payments totaling $150,000 or more according to the study.
The GAO did not make any recommendations with regard to the programs in the study. The Social Security Administration did not comment on the report; the VA noted that it “generally agrees” with the report and the DoD did not comment on the findings in the report.
More data are available from the complete GAO report.