April 17, 2003
The Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
As you are well aware, many of America's veterans suffer from disabilities resulting from their service to our nation. Due to an archaic law, however, disabled military retirees have been forced to surrender a portion of their retirement if they also received disability payments.
Congress has taken several steps to reverse this policy and provide full "concurrent receipt" of retirement and disability benefits. Public Law 107-314, in particular, began the process of providing this compensation to disabled military retirees. The law requires that you "prescribe procedures and criteria under which a disabled uniformed services retiree" may seek this compensation. The criteria includes, among other things, disabilities resulting from "an instrumentality of war" for retirees with service related disability rated at no less than 60 percent.
Members of the veterans' community have expressed concern that the Department of Defense may not consider illnesses and disabilities associated with exposure to Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as having resulted from an "instrumentality of war." Such a decision would deny countless retirees the benefits intended for them by Congress and owed to them by this nation.
As you promulgate the regulations that will implement this important law, I urge you to include illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among those conditions with a presumed service connection so that those retirees may finally receive the benefits they deserve. These men and women have made enormous sacrifices for our nation. I believe we are duty-bound to honor their sacrifice and provide them the full scope of the benefits they have earned.
I am confident you share my concerns and will do you all you can for our nation's military retirees.