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One of the bills that most needs to pass

With that kind of title, you may think that this is a big bill for suicide, military sexual trauma, or burn pits. But no, this bill, House Bill 6543 Restore Veterans’ Compensation Act of 2022, is about eliminating the recoupment of payouts to service members when they apply for veteran disabilities.

According to Paragraph 2 of Section 1174(h) of Title 10 United States Code, service members who have received separation pay while leaving the military and then file for veterans’ disability, would have to pay back whatever separation benefits before collecting veteran disability payments.

So, the government would re-coup 100 percent of a veteran’s disability monthly paycheck, and many of these veterans were not warned of what could happen when they separate from the military.

If you think this affects veterans from the most recent wars, you would be wrong.

This law affects all veterans despite their time of service. For example, U.S. Army Desert Storm veteran Joe Baltierra received a letter last year from the Department of Veteran Affairs stating, “that the money I was paid when I got out, the $24,000, that basically they wanted it back.”

Mr. Baltierra didn’t want to leave the Army, but he was discharged anyway with a monetary separation benefit. The VA will be withholding his entire monthly disability check until the $24,000 is paid in full.

Many veterans count on their disability checks due to their poor health and/or issues gain- ing substantial employment. Mr. Baltierra has been unemployed due to his health, and if these health issues were connected to service, he would qualify for a benefit called Individual Unemployability (IU).

IU is a benefit primarily given to veterans who have too many service-connected health issues, but these issues do not add up to 100 percent on the VA math formula. The IU benefit allows veterans to receive 100 percent of the monthly disability compensation.

But veterans like Mr. Baltierra wouldn’t receive this benefit until the separation pay from three decades ago is paid in full. By then he and other veterans could accrue mountains of other debts to stay afloat, cause lapses in their physical and mental health, and ultimately become homeless.

That is why this bill is so important. It impacts many veterans of every gender, rank, age, and race. The action of recouping the separation payments could also greatly impact families; female veterans are more likely to have their children under their responsibility. The availability of placement for entire families is at its lowest point. Many female veterans cannot access the VA’s homeless program because of their children.

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