Military Retirement, Concurrent Receipt, and Related Major Legislative Issues
Military Retirement, Concurrent Receipt, and
Related Major Legislative Issues
Updated February 12, 2008
Charles A. Henning
Specialist in Military Manpower Policy
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Military Retirement, Concurrent Receipt, and
Related Major Legislative Issues
The military retirement system includes benefits for retirement after an active
or reserve military career, disability retirement, and survivor benefits for eligible
survivors of deceased retirees.
The change to the system that has generated the most recent legislative activity
involves whether some or all military retirees should be allowed to receive both
military retired pay and any VA disability compensation to which they are otherwise
entitled; this is referred to as “concurrent receipt.” Until 2004, the law provided that
military retired pay had to be reduced by the amount of VA disability compensation.
Some maintained this was inequitable and unfair; it was defended on grounds of cost
and of the need to avoid setting a precedent for concurrent receipt of numerous other
Starting in 1999 (FY2000), provisions in each year’s annual National Defense
Authorization Act (NDAA) authorized payments to comparatively small groups (in
the tens of thousands) of military retirees in lieu of concurrent receipt. The program
enacted in 2002, in the FY2003 NDAA (P.L. 107-314), is known as “Combat Related
Special Compensation” (CRSC), although it applies also to those people injured in
military operations and training generally, as distinct from those whose injuries are
unrelated to military service but incurred while in service. CRSC provides for
payments that are the financial equivalent of concurrent receipt.
The FY2004 NDAA (P.L. 108-136, November 24, 2003), for the first time
provided the concurrent receipt or its practical and financial equivalence to large
numbers of military retirees. The law, effective January 1, 2004, (1) authorized the
payment of CRSC to all otherwise eligible military retirees, regardless of their
percentage of disability; (2) authorized a 10-year phase-in of concurrent receipt for
all military retirees whose disability is 50% or greater, regardless of the origins of
their disability; and (3) included (hitherto almost completely excluded) reserve
retirees. The FY2005 NDAA (P.L. 108-375, October 28, 2004; 118 Stat. 1811)
expanded concurrent receipt eligibility by authorizing the immediate (rather than a
In its first session, the 110th Congress extended the Combat Related Special
Compensation program to include those who were medically retired prior to
completing 20 years of service rather than a normal longevity retirement. These
individuals are generally referred to as “Chapter 61” retirees. In addition those with
a 100% VA Unemployability rating were granted full concurrent receipt, retroactive
to December 31, 2004.
It is anticipated that the second session will continue work on these issues. This
report will be updated as needed.
Most Recent Developments..........................................1
Key Elements and Issues............................................1
Conceptual and Political Setting..................................1
“Redux”: Its 1986 Enactment and 1999 Repeal......................3
Entitlement to Retired Pay and Retired Pay Computation Base..........3
Retired Pay Computation Formula................................4
Military Personnel Who First Entered the Service before
August 1, 1986........................................4
Military Personnel Who First Entered the Service on or after
August 1, 1986........................................4
Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA), 1992-2001
Military Retired Pay and Social Security............................5
Retired Pay and Survivor Benefit COLAs...............................6
What Was the Last COLA and When Will Be the Next COLA?.........6
COLAs for Pre-August 1, 1986 Entrants............................6
COLAs for Personnel Who Entered Service On or After August 1, 1986..6
Redux/$30,000 Cash Bonus Recipients.........................7
Costs and Benefits of the Two Retirement Alternatives............7
Military Retirement Budgeting and Costs...............................7
Accounting for Military Retirement in the Federal Budget..............7
Military Retirement Cost Trends..................................9
Cost Concerns about Recent Retiree Benefit Increases.................9
Concurrent Receipt of Military Retired Pay and VA Disability Compensation.10
Military Retired Pay and VA Disability Compensation: Overview......10
VA Disability Compensation................................11
Interaction of DOD and VA Disability Benefits.................11
“Combat Related Special Compensation” (CRSC):Enacted in 2002 and
Expanded in 2003........................................12
CRSC for Military Disability Retirees.........................12
CRSC for Reserve Retirees.................................13
Concurrent Receipt for Retirees with 50% or Greater Disability
(also know as “Concurrent Receipt Disability Payments”)........13
Concurrent Receipt for Those Rated 100% Unemployable.............15
List of Tables
Table 1. DOD Retired Military Personnel and Survivors:
Estimated Numbers and Costs, FY2005-FY2007.....................3
Table 2. Military Retirement Outlays..................................9
Military Retirement, Concurrent Receipt and
Related Major Legislative Issues
Most Recent Developments
As the 110th Congress begins its second session, ongoing military operations in
Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with recruiting challenges and a great deal of interest
among military retirees and those working on their behalf will probably continue to
highlight military retirement and Concurrent Receipt issues.
However, with the recruiting and retention challenges being faced by the
military, it is anticipated that military personnel benefits, to include retirement, will
continue to be advanced and advocated by the Department of Defense (DOD) and
veteran’s organizations. It is further anticipated that Concurrent Receipt eligibility
will remain an issue for the second session of the 110th Congress.
Key Elements and Issues
Conceptual and Political Setting
Congress confronts both constituent concerns and budgetary constraints in
considering military retirement issues. The approximately 2.1 million military
retirees and survivor benefit recipients, and their roughly 6 million to 8 million
family members, have been, and continue to be, an articulate and well-educated
constituent group familiar with the legislative process and represented by
associations staffed with military retirees who have long experience in working with
Congress. In recent years, the long-standing efforts by military retirees and their
associations to secure more benefits for their members have been buttressed by (1)
the outpouring of nationwide nostalgia and support for the past heroism and current
old-age needs of the “greatest generation” of World War II-era veterans, whether
retirees or not; (2) concern over problems the military services were having in
recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of qualified personnel, which have been
exacerbated by ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the extent
to which actual or perceived inadequacies in retirement benefits may have been
contributing to these problems; (3) the impression by many current or former military
personnel that the Clinton Administration was not favorably disposed toward the
military as an institution, leading to efforts to portray increased retirement benefits
as a palliative, and (4) in a reversal of the attitudes toward the Clinton
Administration, efforts to obtain more benefits from the Bush Administration
because it is perceived as being pro-military. And, since September 11, 2001, there
has been a predictably dramatic increase in public and congressional support for the
In addition, it can be posited that the policy choices posed by recently-enacted
increased benefits for military retirees are an integral part of a larger debate in the
United States over the distribution of pension-type resources among younger workers
and older retirees. In the defense context, it may take the form of tensions between
DOD and current active duty and reserve military personnel, with the responsibility
of defending the United States in the present, and retired military personnel, many
of whom feel that they are losing benefits to which they assumed they would always
have access. Some assert that rapidly increasing retiree-related benefits, although
they reward those whose patriotic service is unquestionable, are “crowding out”
defense resources that could go to maintaining and improving current defense
capabilities. On the other hand, it can be argued that, in a defense budget of about
$550 billion yearly, these benefits are not significant enough to really detract from
current defense capability, and that a nearly $14 trillion GDP is more than adequate
to finance both benefits for military retirees and current defense requirements if the
political will to do so is present.
In general, since the late 1990s, Congress has been more aggressive than the
executive branch in responding to the stated concerns of retirees about their benefits.
DOD and other executive branch agencies have, over time, tended to regard military
retirement benefits as a place where substantial budgetary savings could be made.
For instance, as noted below, Congress took the initiative in 1999 to repeal the
“Redux” cuts in future military retired pay that was originally enacted in 1986, and
Congress has enacted major increases in military health care benefits for retirees
(TRICARE for Life) and authorized partial concurrent receipt of military retired pay
and VA disability compensation, both over DOD objections.
In FY2007, total federal budget outlays for military retirement were $43.5
billion and DOD budget outlays were $14.4billion. (The differing figures for total
federal and DOD outlays result from the use of the accrual method in accounting for
the costs of military retirement. See the section below on Budgeting and Costs for
a discussion of accrual accounting. These numbers, taken from Table 2, also differ
slightly from those in Table 1 for purely technical reasons without policy
significance.) Table 1 shows the estimated numbers of retirees, and the costs to the
federal government of the retired pay they receive, for FY2005-FY2008.
Table 1. DOD Retired Military Personnel and Survivors:
Estimated Numbers and Costs, FY2005-FY2007
FY Total Career Retirees Retirees Recipients
F Y 2008 2,169,000/ 1,466,000/ 82,000/ 328,000/ 293,000/
(est)$46.15 billion$37.28 billion$1.31 billion$4.20 billion$3.36 billion
F Y 2007 2,147,000/ 1,462,000/ 85,000/ 313,000/ 287,000/
(actual)$44.45 billion$35.88 billion$1.29 billion$4.00 billion$3.28 billion
F Y 2006 2,114,000/ 1,450,000/ 87,000/ 293,000/ 284,000/
(actual)$40.51 billion$35.80 billion$1.25 billion$3.45 billion$2.61 billion
(actual)$38.80 billion$32.07 billion$1.28 billion$3.21 billion$2.24 billion
Sources: Office of the Actuary. Department of Defense. Valuation of the Military Retirement
System. September 30. Document available at [http://www.defenselink.mil/actuary/].
“Redux”: Its 1986 Enactment and 1999 Repeal
Cuts in retired pay for future retirees were enacted in the Military Retirement
Reform Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-348, July 1, 1986; the “1986 Act,” now referred to
frequently as the “Redux” military retirement system). Although enactment of Redux
in 1986 represented a success for those who argued that the pre-Redux system was
too generous, the repeal of compulsory Redux in late 1999 by the FY2000 National
Defense Authorization Act indicated that, at least in Congress, those who defend the
pre-Redux system were again ascendant.
Congress began taking notice publicly of potential problems related to Redux
in 1997, well before the executive branch addressed the issue. During the fall of
1998, the Administration announced that it supported Redux repeal. Eventually, the
FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act contained provisions for repealing
compulsory Redux; it allows post-August 1, 1986 entrants to retire under the pre-
Redux system or opt for Redux plus an immediate $30,000 cash payment (see
Entitlement to Retired Pay and Retired Pay Computation
A servicemember becomes entitled to retired pay upon completion of 20 years
of service, regardless of age. (The average nondisabled enlisted member retiring
from an active duty military career in FY2005 was 41 years old and had nearly 22
years of service; the average officer was 45 years old and had nearly 24 years of
service.)1 A member who retires from active duty is paid an immediate monthly
annuity based on a percentage of his or her retired pay computation base. For
persons who entered military service before September 8, 1980, the retired pay
computation base is final monthly basic pay being received at the time of retirement.
For those who entered service on or after September 8, 1980, the computation base
is the average of the highest three years (36 months) of basic pay.2 Basic pay
comprises approximately 70% of the total for all retirement eligibles: 75% for 30-
year retirees and 66% for 20-year retirees. Thus, the 20-year retiree may get 50% of
retired pay computation base upon retirement, but only 33% of RMC. The 30-year
retiree will receive 75% of the computation base, but only 56% of RMC. Nor do any
of these calculations include any of the many special pays, bonuses, or other cash
compensation to which many military members are entitled.
Retired Pay Computation Formula
Military Personnel Who First Entered the Service before August 1,
1986, have their retired pay computed at the rate of 2.5% of the retired pay
computation base for each year of service. The minimum amount of retired pay to
which a member entitled to compute his or her retired pay under this formula is
therefore 50% of the retired pay computation base (20 years of service X 2.5%). A
The maximum, reached at the 30-year mark, is 75% of the computation base (30
years of service X 2.5%).
However, the FY2007 National Defense Authorization Act extended the
previous pay table to 40 years, allowed additional longevity raises,3 and provided4
additional retirement credit for service beyond 30 years at the rate of 2.5% per year.
As a result, a servicemember who retires with 40 years of service will qualify for
Military Personnel Who First Entered the Service on or after August
1, 1986. Personnel who first enter service on or after August 1, 1986, in accordance
with the provisions of the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, are required
to select one of two options in calculating their retired pay within 180 days of
reaching 15 years of service.
Option 1: Pre-Redux. They can opt to have their retired pay computed in
accordance with the pre-Redux formula, described above, but with a slightly
1 DOD Office of the Actuary. Fiscal Year 2005 DOD Statistical Report on the Military
Retirement System. September 30, 2005, pp. 102, 125.
2 Basic pay is one component of total Regular Military Compensation, or RMC, which
consists of basic pay, housing and subsistence allowances, and the federal tax advantage that
accrues because the allowances are not taxable.
3 Section 601, P.L. 109-364, October 17, 2006.
4 Section 642, P.L. 109-364, October 17, 2006.
modified cost of living adjustment (COLA) formula, which is less generous than that
of the pre-Redux formula (see below, under COLAs).
Option 2: Redux. They can opt to have their retired pay computed in
accordance with the Redux formula and receive an immediate $30,000 cash bonus
called a Career Status Bonus (which can actually be paid in several annual
installments if the recipient so wishes, for tax purposes).
The Redux Formula: Under Age 62 Retirees. Redux is different from the
previous formula in two major ways. First, for retirees under age 62, retired pay will
be computed at the rate of 2.0% of the retired pay computation base for each year of
service through 20, and 3.5% for each year of service from 21-30. Under this new
formula, therefore, a 20-year retiree will receive 40% of his or her retired pay
computation base upon retirement (20 years of service X 2.0%), and a 25-year retiree
will receive 57.5% of the computation base [(20 years of service X 2.0%) + (5 years
of service X 3.5%)]. A 30-year retiree, however, will continue to receive 75% of the
retired pay computation base [(20 years of service X 2.0%) + (10 years of service X
3.5%)]. The changed formula, therefore, is “skewed” much more sharply in favor of
the longer-serving military careerist, theoretically providing an incentive to remain
on active duty longer before retiring.
The Redux Formula: Retirees 62 and Older. Second, when a retiree
reaches age 62, his or her retired pay will be recomputed based on the old formula,
a straight 2.5% of the retired pay computation base for each year of service. Thus,
beginning at 62, the 20-year retiree receiving 40% of the computation base for retired
pay, according to the new formula, will begin receiving 50% of his or her original
computation base; the 25-year retiree’s annuity will jump from 57.5% of the original
computation base to 62.5%; and the 30-year retiree’s annuity, already at 75% of the
original computation base under both the old and new formulas, will not change.
(Note: this change is an increase in monthly retired pay, not a lump sum at age 62.)
Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA), 1992-2001
The FY1993 National Defense Authorization Act (Sec. 4403, P.L. 102-484)
granted temporary authority (which expired on September 30, 2001) for the services
to offer early retirements to personnel with more than 15 but less than 20 years of
service. TERA was used as a manpower tool to entice voluntary retirements during
the drawdown. TERA retired pay was calculated in the usual ways except that there
is an additional reduction of 1% for every year of service below 20. Part or all of this
latter reduction could be restored if the retiree worked in specified public service jobs
(such as law enforcement, firefighting, and education) during the period immediately
following retirement, until the point at which the retiree would have reached the 20-
year mark if he or she had remained in the service.
Military Retired Pay and Social Security
Military personnel do not contribute a percentage of their salary to help pay for
retirement benefits. They have paid taxes into the social security trust fund since
January 1, 1957, and are entitled to full social security benefits based on their military
service. Military retired pay and social security are not offset against each other;
military retirees receive full social security benefits in addition to their military
Retired Pay and Survivor Benefit COLAs
Military retired pay is protected against inflation by statute (10 U.S.C. 1401a).
The Military Retirement Reform Act of 1986, in conjunction with recent changes in
the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act, provides for COLAs as indicated
below. Congress has not modified the COLA formula since FY1996 (1995),
although virtually every year since 1982 some COLA modifications, always with the
aim of reducing costs and hence the payments to retirees, have been at least
discussed. Therefore, it is probably inadvisable to assume at any time that COLAs
will be totally off the table in future Congresses. For further information on COLAs,
see CRS Report 98-223, COLAs for Military Retirees: Summary of Congressional
and Executive Branch Action, 1982-2004 (FY1983-FY2005), by Robert L. Goldich.
(Hereafter CRS Report 98-223.)
What Was the Last COLA and When Will Be the Next COLA?
The most recent military retirement COLA was 2.3%, first applied to the retired
pay disbursed on January 1, 2008. The next COLA has not been announced but is
to be applied to the retired pay disbursed on January 1, 2009. For a discussion of
proposed and actual COLA changes over the past 20 years, see CRS Report 98-223.
COLAs for Pre-August 1, 1986 Entrants
For military personnel who first entered military service before August 1, 1986,
each December a COLA equal to the percentage increase in the Consumer Price
Index (CPI) between the third quarters of successive years will be applied to military
retired pay for the annuities paid beginning each January 1. For example, assume
that the CPI rises from 400.0 in September 2008 to 412.0 in September 2009, an
increase of 12.0 points or 3.0% of 400.0. The monthly retired pay that accrues during
December 2009, and will actually be paid to retirees on January 1, 2010, would be
increased by 3.0% above that amount paid the previous month.
COLAs for Personnel Who Entered Service On or
After August 1, 1986
For those personnel who first entered military service on or after August 1,
1986, the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act provides that their COLAs
will be calculated in accordance with either of two methods, as noted below.
Non-Redux Recipients. Those personnel who opt to have their retired pay
computed in accordance with the pre-Redux formula will have their COLAs
computed as described above for pre-August 1, 1986 entrants.
Redux/$30,000 Cash Bonus Recipients. Those personnel who opt to
have their retired pay computed in accordance with the Redux formula, and receive
the $30,000 cash bonus, will have their COLAs computed as follows. Annual
COLAs will be held to one percentage point below the actual inflation rate for
retirees under age 62. Retirees covered by this new COLA formula would thus
receive a 2.0% increase (rather than 3.0%) in their military retired pay under the
hypothetical example described in the above paragraph. When a retiree reaches age
62, there will be a one-time recomputation of his or her annuity to make up for the
lost purchasing power caused by the holding of COLAs to the inflation rate minus
one percentage point. This recomputation will be applied to the old, generally more
liberal retired pay computation formula on which retirees 62 or older will have their
annuities computed (see the above subsection entitled Retired Pay Computation
Formula), compounding, for most retirees, the size of this one-time annuity increase.
After the recomputation at 62, however, future COLAs will continue to be computed
on the basis of the inflation rate minus one percentage point.
Costs and Benefits of the Two Retirement Alternatives. An analysis
of the economic effects for hypothetical retirees indicates that in almost all cases
opting for the pre-Redux formula will pay the individual much more over time. A
report of the Center for Naval Analyses states that the more liberal retired pay
computation formula and COLA formula of pre-Redux far outweighs the short-term
benefits of a $30,000 pre-tax cash bonus. The report did say that it might be possible
for an individual investor to “beat” these negative aspects of the bonus by wise
investment decisions but that it would be difficult.5 Naturally, no study can know
what an individual’s financial situation is. At first, only a fairly small percentage of
personnel opted for the $30,000 lump sum.6 However, the number appears to have
been rising. Since the bonus option first became available in 2001, 50% of eligible
Marine Corps enlisted retirees, 40% of warrant officers, but only 13% of
commissioned officers have taken it,7 suggesting the attractiveness of the immediate
cash payment to the lower-paid members of the career force.
Military Retirement Budgeting and Costs
Accounting for Military Retirement in the Federal Budget
All DOD budgets through FY1984 reflected the costs of retired pay actually
being paid out to personnel who had already retired. Congress simply appropriated
the amount of money required to pay current retirees each year. Since FY1985, the
“accrual accounting” concept has been used to budget for the costs of military retired
pay. Under this system, the DOD budget for each fiscal year reflects the estimated
5 Crawley, Vince. “Report: Taking Redux Bonus Is ‘Loan’ Against Retirement.” Marine
Corps Times, May 21, 2001, p. 10.
6 Crawley, Vince. “Which Pays Best ... The Bonus or the Egg?” Army Times, April 22,
7 Brinkley, C. Mark. “Skip ‘Redux’ Bonus, Former Top Enlisted Marine Warns: Retired-
pay Cut Not Worth It, Sergeant Major Says.” Marine Corps Times, August 2, 2004, p. 25.
amount of money that must be set aside and accrued at interest from investment in
special, non-marketable U.S. government securities similar in some ways to Treasury
bills and bonds. This interest funds the retired pay to which persons currently in the
Armed Forces during that fiscal year, and who ultimately retire, will be entitled in the
future. These estimated future retirement costs are arrived at by making projections
based on the past rates at which active duty military personnel stayed in the service
until retirement, and on assumptions regarding the overall U.S. economy, such as
interest rates, inflation rates, and military pay levels. These DOD budget outlays for
retirement are computed as a percentage of a fiscal year’s total military pay costs for
each military service. Approximately 35%-40% of military basic pay costs must be
added to the DOD personnel budget each fiscal year to cover the future retirement
costs of those personnel who ultimately retire from the military.
DOD budget outlays in each fiscal year that pay for the estimated cost of future
retirees are transferred in a paper transaction to a Military Retirement Fund, located
in the Income Security Function of the federal budget. The Military Retirement Fund
also receives [paper] transfers from the General Fund of the Treasury to fund the
initial unfunded liability of the military retirement system. This is the total future
cost of military retired pay that will result from military service performed prior to
the implementation of accrual accounting in FY1985. Money is disbursed from this
Military Retirement Fund to current retirees. Individual retirees continue to receive
their retired pay from DOD finance centers. Technically, however, because this
money paid to individuals comes not from the DOD budget, but from the Fund, it is
paid out by the Income Security function of the federal budget. Actual payments to
current retirees thus show up in the federal budget as outlays from the federal budget
as a whole, but not from DOD. Under accrual accounting, therefore, total federal
outlays for each fiscal year continue to reflect only costs of payments to military
members who have already retired, as was the case before accrual accounting began.
Accrual accounting only changes the manner in which the federal government
accounts for military retired pay; it does not affect actual payments to individuals in
Current debates over both federal civilian and military retirement have included
some discussion of the “unfunded liability” of both. As noted above, the military
retirement system’s unfunded liability consists of future retired pay costs incurred
before the creation of the Military Retirement Fund in FY1985. These obligations
are being liquidated by the payment to the Fund each year of an amount from the
General Fund of the Treasury and will be fully paid, based on current calculations,
by FY2033. The unfunded liability at the end of FY2003 was $628.3 billion; the
estimated liability for FY2004 was $648.3 billion; for FY2005, $666.1 billion; and
for FY2006, $684.2 billion.8 These figures are between $83 and $92 billion higher
than the estimated unfunded liability for the same years at the end of FY2003. This
increase is due almost entirely to the enactment of concurrent receipt-related
8 Valuation of the Military Retirement System as of September 30, 2003. Department of
Defense Office of the Actuary, pp. ii, 9, 15, 25. Available online at
retirement benefits, both actual concurrent receipt and Combat-Related Special
Compensation (CRSC), discussed below.
Some concerns have been voiced about the amount of unfunded liability.
However, (1) the hundreds of billions of dollars of unfunded liability is a cumulative
amount to be paid to retirees over the next 50 years, not all at once; (2) by the time
some persons first become eligible for retired pay under the pre-accrual accounting
system, many others will have died; and (3) unlike the private sector, there is no way
for employees to claim immediate payment of their future benefits. An analogy
would be that most homeowners cannot afford to pay cash for a house, so they get
a mortgage. If the mortgage had to be paid in full, almost no homeowners could
afford to do so. However, spread out over 30 years, the payments are affordable.
Similarly, the unfunded liability of federal retirement programs is deemed affordable
when federal retirement outlays are spread over many decades.
Military Retirement Cost Trends
Because military retirement is an entitlement, rather than a discretionary
program, its costs to the total federal budget (payments to current retirees and
survivors) always rise modestly each year, due to a predictable slow rise in the
number of retirees and survivors. The cost to DOD (estimated future retirement costs
of current personnel) declined after FY1989 (the beginning of the post-Cold War
drawdown), as the size of the force, and therefore the number of people who will
retire from it in the future, declined. However, as the drawdown stabilized, so did
the DOD budget costs of retirement. Table 2 indicates the costs of military retired
pay in federal budget outlays (payments to current retirees) and Department of
Defense accrual outlays (money set aside to fund future retirees). (As noted above,
these figures differ slightly from the figures for the same fiscal years cited in Table
Table 2. Military Retirement Outlays
(billions of current dollars)
Total federal budgetAccrual outlays from DOD
*FY2008 Budget of the United States Government. Appendix, p. 937
** FY2006 Budget of the United States Government. Appendix, pp. 953-954.
***FY2005 Budget of the United States Government. Appendix, p. 927.
Cost Concerns about Recent Retiree Benefit Increases
The cost of concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability
compensation (discussed immediately below) is frequently cited in the context of
other benefits to retired military personnel and their families that have been created,
or expanded, since the late 1990s. DOD and others have argued that such retiree
benefits are becoming increasingly costly and do not “leverage readiness” by
applying directly to active duty or reserve military personnel and their families. They
suggest that the money being used for these purposes should be channeled into active
duty or reserve benefits that directly relate to recruitment or career retention not
retiree compensation, whose relationship to actual or potential personnel shortages
is tenuous and difficult to establish.
The two benefits most often included in this category are concurrent receipt and
CRSC, and TRICARE for life (extending, to Medicare-eligible military retirees,
DOD health care insurance for care obtained from civilian sources). Others would
include in this list repeal of the Redux cuts in military retirement (discussed above).
In addition, concerns have been voiced about retiree benefit increases that have not
been enacted but that are under active debate and consideration in Congress,
including lowering the age at which reserve retirees can first receive retired pay from
The arguments in favor of these benefit increases have been equally strong.
Proponents suggest that even if they do not directly affect active duty or reserve
military personnel, by strengthening the broad range of benefits available to military
retirees, they provide a strong career retention incentive. In particular, they argue that
although most of the U.S. Army, and a substantial part of the Marine Corps, is at war
in Iraq and Afghanistan, and repetitive tours of duty in those two theaters of combat
operations are a likely prospect for active duty personnel and reserve personnel, now
is the time to be buttressing the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” — the
benefits available to military personnel who are willing to undergo the hardships of
a military career in return for liberal retirement benefits after 20 years of service.
Concurrent Receipt of Military Retired Pay
and VA Disability Compensation
Military Retired Pay and VA Disability Compensation:
Most people familiar with military retirement would probably agree that the
most controversial military retirement issue that is currently the object of intense
congressional interest is that involving concurrent receipt of military retired pay and
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation. Until 2004, the law
required that military retired pay be reduced by the amount of any VA disability
compensation received. For many years some military retirees had sought a change
in law to permit receipt of all or some of both, and legislation to allow this has been
introduced during the past several Congresses, frequently having co-sponsors well
above half of both the House and the Senate. This issue is referred to as “concurrent
receipt,” because it would involve the simultaneous receipt of two types of benefits.
The FY2003 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), enacted in 2002, created
a benefit known as “combat-related special compensation,” or CRSC. CRSC
provides, for certain seriously disabled retirees, a cash benefit financially identical
to what concurrent receipt would provide them. The FY2004 NDAA authorized, for
the first time, actual concurrent receipt (now referred to as Concurrent Receipt
Disability Payments or CRDP), as well as a greatly expanded CRSC program. The
FY2005 NDAA further liberalized the concurrent receipt rules contained in the
FY2004 NDAA; this is discussed in greater detail below. For a detailed description
of the existing CRDP and CRSC programs, including a sample application form, see
a web page of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) at
[ h ttp://www.mo a a . o r g/ l a c / l a c _ i s s u es_list/lac_issues_fullyretired/lac.issues_news_
VA Disability Compensation. To qualify for VA disability compensation,
a determination must be made by the VA that the veteran sustained a particular injury
or disease, or had a preexisting condition aggravated, while serving in the Armed
Forces. Some exceptions exist for certain conditions that may not have been
apparent during military service but which are presumed to have been service-
connected. The VA has a scale of 10 ratings, from 10% to 100%, although there is
no special arithmetic relationship between the amount of money paid for each step.
Each percentage rating entitles the veteran to a specific level of disability
compensation. In a major difference from the DOD disability retirement system, a
veteran receiving VA disability compensation can ask for a medical reexamination
at any time (or a veteran who does not receive disability compensation upon
separation from service can be reexamined later). All VA disability compensation
is tax-free, which makes receipt of VA compensation desirable, even with the
operation of the offset.
Interaction of DOD and VA Disability Benefits. Military retirees can also
apply to the VA for disability compensation. This can be advantageous to retirees
who have a DOD disability rating because, although offset, the VA compensation is
totally tax-free. Also, a retiree may (1) apply for VA compensation any time after
leaving the service and (2) have his or her degree of disability changed by the VA as
the result of a later medical reevaluation, as noted above. Many retirees seek benefits
from the VA years after retirement for a condition that may have been incurred
during military service but that does not manifest itself until many years later. The
DOD and VA disability rating systems have much in common as well as significant
differences. DOD makes a determination of eligibility for disability retirement only
once, at the time the individual is separating from the service. Although DOD uses
the VA schedule of types of disabilities to determine the percentage of disability,
DOD measures disability, or lack thereof, against the extent to which the individual
can or cannot perform military duties, rather than his or her ability to perform post-
service civilian work. A military retiree, regardless of his or her DOD disability
status immediately upon retirement, can apply for VA disability compensation at any
time after leaving active military duty. Military disability retired pay is usually
taxable, unless related to a combat disability. For further discussion of these and
other relevant issues, see CRS Report 95-469, Military Retirement and Veterans’
Compensation: Concurrent Receipt Issues, by Robert L. Goldich.
“Combat Related Special Compensation” (CRSC):
Enacted in 2002 and Expanded in 2003
The FY2003 NDAA (Section 636, P.L. 107-314; 116 Stat. 2458), as amended
by the FY2004 NDAA Section 642, P.L. 108-136, 117 Stat. 1392, authorized
“Combat Related Special Compensation” (CRSC). Military retirees with at least 20
years of service and who meet either of the following two criteria are eligible for
!A disability that is “attributable to an injury for which the member
was awarded the Purple Heart,” and is not rated as less than a 10%
disability by DOD or the VA; or
!A disability rating from either DOD or the VA, incurred due to
involvement in “armed conflict,” “hazardous service,” “duty
simulating war,” and “through an instrumentality of war.” This
appears, in lay terms, to encompass combat with any kind of hostile
force; hazardous duty such as diving, parachuting, using dangerous
materials such as explosives, and the like; individual training and
unit training and exercises and maneuvers in the field; and
“instrumentalities of war,” such as accidents in combat vehicles or,
if due to training-related activities, aboard naval vessels or military
aircraft, and accidental injuries due to occurrences, such as
munitions explosions, injuries from gases or vapors related to
training for combat, and the like.
(The 2003 legislation limited the latter criterion to retirees with at least a 60%
disability; the 2004 legislation repealed the 60% limit.)
CRSC payments will be equal to the amount of VA disability compensation to
which the retiree is entitled, but the new legislation does not end the requirement that
the retiree’s military retired pay be reduced by whatever VA compensation to which
the retiree is entitled. Therefore, CRSC beneficiaries will receive the financial
equivalence of concurrent receipt, but in legal and statutory terms it will not
constitute concurrent receipt, and the statute also states that it explicitly is not retired
pay per se. For online applications and information, see [https://www.dod.mil
/prhome/mppcrsc.html]. Retirees may also phone the retirement services offices of
their service for the necessary information.
CRSC for Military Disability Retirees. Servicemembers with a permanent
disability rating of 30% or greater may be retired and receive retired pay prior to
completing 20 years of service. These retirees are generally referred to as “Chapter
61” retirees, a reference to Chapter 61, Title 10 which governs their retirement. The
original concurrent receipt legislation excluded those who retired with less than 20
years of service.
However, the FY2008 NDAA (P.L.110-181) expanded Combat Related Special
Compensation (CRSC) to include Chapter 61 retirees effective January 1, 2008.
Eligibility is not based on a minimum number of years of service or a minimum
disability rating other than the 30% noted above for disability retirement. Excluded
from eligibility are those former servicemembers who were medically retired due to
The FY2008 NDAA also includes almost all reserve disability retirees except
those retired under 10 U.S.C. 12731b, a special provision which allows reservists
with a physical disability not incurred in the line of duty to retire with between 15
and 19 creditable years of service.
CRSC for Reserve Retirees. The CRSC statute in the FY2004 NDAA
clearly states that personnel who qualify for reserve retirement by having at least 20
years of duty creditable for reserve retirement purposes are eligible for CRSC. When
CRSC was enacted in 2002, DOD interpreted the law as requiring reserve retirees to
have at least 7,200 reserve retirement “points” to be eligible for CRSC. A reservist
receives a certain number of retirement points for varying levels of participation in
the reserves, or active duty military service. The 7,200 point figure was
extraordinarily high — in fact, it could only have been attained by a reservist who
had at least 20 years of active duty military service. Hence, the DOD interpretation
of the law effectively denied CRSC to reservists.
Concurrent Receipt for Retirees with 50% or Greater
Disability (also know as “Concurrent Receipt Disability
The FY2004 NDAA (Section 641) authorized, for the first time, actual concurrent
receipt for retirees with at least a 50% disability, regardless of the cause of disability.
However, the amount of concurrent receipt will be phased in over a 10-year period, from
2004-2013, except for 100% disabled retirees, who will be entitled to immediate
concurrent receipt effective January 1, 2005 (this provision was added in the FY2005
NDAA; see below). Depending on the degree of disability, the initial amount of retired
pay that the retiree could receive would vary from $100 to $750 per month, or the actual
amount, whichever is less. By 2014, the decrease in retired pay will be totally
eliminated. As with the revised CRSC, this concurrent receipt benefit is also available
to those reservists with at least 20 years of service creditable for reserve retirement
purposes and who are receiving retired pay (eligibility begins at age 60).
The actual operation of the new concurrent receipt benefit is complicated, due
to its progressive implementation over several years as required by law [10 U.S.C.
1414 (c), as enacted by Subsection 641(a), P.L. 108-136, November 24, 2003; 117
Stat. 1511]. It uses both dollar amounts and percentage amounts and varies in
accordance with the degree of disability and by calendar year (not fiscal year) as
2004. In calendar year 2004, military retirees entitled to VA disability
compensation were entitled to receive, in addition to that part of their military retired
pay which is greater than the total VA compensation to which they are entitled, the
following additional amounts of retired pay:
100% disability:Up to $750 per month additional retired pay
90% disability:Up to $500 per month additional retired pay
80% disability:Up to $350 per month additional retired pay
70% disability:Up to $250 per month additional retired pay
60% disability:Up to $125 per month additional retired pay
50% disability:Up to $100 per month additional retired pay
Example. Assume that in 2004, a retiree with 100% disability (i.e., up to $750 per
month as described above) had been entitled to $1,500 per month in military retired pay
and $1,000 per month in VA disability compensation. Before the 2003 legislation
authorizing concurrent receipt, the retiree could have received only $500 per month in
military retired pay, because the remaining $1,000 per month of retired pay would have
been offset by the retiree’s $1,000 in VA compensation. However, in 2004, this
hypothetical retiree’s military retired pay would have increased to $1,250 per month (the
$500 unaffected by the VA compensation and an additional $750 per month, for a total
of $1,250). However, $250 of the $1,000 in monthly VA compensation would still have
military retirees entitled to VA disability compensation were entitled to any such
amounts received in 2004, as noted above, and an additional 10% of the offset that
remained in 2004. However, beginning on January 1, 2005, and thereafter, 100%
disabled retirees are entitled to all of their military retired pay in addition to all of
their VA disability compensation.
2006. In calendar year 2006, the same procedure as in 2005 applied, but the
retirees affected got an additional 20% of their remaining offset from 2004. Full
concurrent receipt for 100% disabled retirees continued.
2007. In 2007, the same procedure applies but with affected retirees receiving
an additional 30% of their remaining offset from 2004. Full concurrent receipt for
2008. In 2008, the same procedure applies but with affected retirees receiving
an additional 40% of their remaining offset from 2004. Full concurrent receipt for
100% disabled retirees will continue. On January 1, 2008, those former
servicemembers who were medically retired due to combat-related disabilities
become eligible for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). In addition,
those retirees rated as 100% Unemployable by the VA become eligible for
Concurrent Receipt, retroactive to December 31, 2004.
2014- All offsets would end; military retirees with at least a 50% disability would be
allowed to receive their entire military retired pay and VA disability compensation.
For those retirees who retire after 2004, their initial amounts will be the dollar
amount prescribed for each percentage of disability (the range listed above, in the
section on calendar year 2004, between $100 and $750, depending on degree of
disability), plus the additional percentage of that dollar amount for that year. Thus,
a retiree who first retires in, say, 2006, with an 80% disability will begin receiving
an additional $420 monthly of his or her retired pay (the $350 that an 80% disabled
retiree is entitled to, as noted above, plus the additional 20% of $350, or $70,
specified for 2006).
Because of the high initial amounts provided to severely disabled retirees, this
new concurrent receipt benefit is “front-loaded”; that is, most retirees will be able to
concurrently receive most of their military retired pay within a few years of
enactment of the law.
A retiree cannot receive both CRSC and CRDP benefits. The retiree may choose
whichever is most financially advantageous to him or her and may move back and forth
between either benefit to maximize the payments received as often as desired.
Concurrent Receipt for Those Rated 100% Unemployable.
After the enactment of the FY2005 NDAA in late 2004, an issue arose about
whether the authorization of full concurrent receipt, effective January 1, 2005, for
but with what the VA terms an “Individual Unemployability” (IU) rating of 100%.
The language in Subsection 642(a) of the FY2005 NDAA states that the immediate
payment of full concurrent receipt will apply to retirees “receiving veterans’
disability compensation for a disability rated at 100 percent....” That is, the law does
not mention the IU concept. According to individuals familiar with the issue, during
the conference on the FY2005 NDAA, in 2004, language explicitly including the
100% unemployables with less than a 100% disability rating was kept out of the final
legislation on cost grounds.
The FY2006 NDAA (P.L. 109-163) contained a partial step toward inclusion
of the 100% unemployables by authorizing full concurrent receipt beginning on
October 1, 2009, over four years earlier than the date of January 1, 2014 that is in
current law (the date of full concurrent receipt for all retirees, regardless of their
The issue of concurrent receipt for 100% unemployables was addressed in the
FY2008 NDAA (P.L. 110-181). This provision extended eligibility to all who have
been rated as 100% Unemployable (regardless of their disability rating) by the VA
and made their eligibility for Concurrent Receipt retroactive to December 31, 2004.
However, this new benefit will not begin until October 1, 2008. At that time, monthly
payments will begin and will include a lump sum payment for the retroactive benefit.
Service Contact Information.
The services have each established websites and toll-free phone numbers to
assist retirees with their Concurrent Receipt concerns. They can be contacted at
Navy and Marine Corps
[ h ttp://ask.afpc.randolph.af.mil/]