MILITARY UPDATE: Tips For Disabled Retirees To File 'Good' CRSC Applications

by Tom Philpott

7/5/2003

If you're among tens of thousands of military retirees who still intend to apply for the new Combat-Related Special Compensation, below are tips from officials for filing a "good" CRSC application. If you're one of 15,000 retirees who already applied for CRSC, you might learn here that you provided too little or too much information. But don't apply again, says Tom Tower, a Defense Department pay expert who helped to draft CRSC regulations. Be patient and your service's CRSC board will notify you if it needs more information to determine eligibility. The tips presented here reflect a month's experience by the services in reviewing CRSC applications, and in working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to gain quicker access to VA disability codes and files.

Though the first CRSC applications were filed in early June, only about 1000 were reviewed and 100 approved in time for payments to begin July 1. Given the volume of applications, waits of two to three months will be commonplace for a while. But when CRSC payments do begin for current retirees, they will be retroactive to June 1.

Congress enacted CRSC to cut or eliminate for a select group of disabled military retirees an offset in retired pay that occurs when they begin receiving VA disability compensation. Qualified retirees are those who were awarded Purple Hearts for these disabilities or had serious injuries or illnesses from combat, combat training, or "instrumentalities of war" such as Agent Orange.

An estimated 710,000 military retirees receive some VA compensation for "service-connected" disabilities. Only 35,000 to 40,000, said Tower, are expected to be found eligible for CRSC.

Monthly CRSC for most of them will range from $104 to $2193, matching the retired pay offset caused by their VA compensation. But CRSC, as interpreted by Defense officials, will not restore retired pay offsets resulting from VA compensation to retirees for spouse and dependents.

Tower described the volume of applications reaching CRSC Boards as "huge." About 60 percent are Army retirees, as expected. Only the Army is using a private contractor to help with the administrative burden. Volume is the big obstacle to timely decisions, Tower said. At least 50,000 total applications are expected, but the number could double. New applicants can ensure faster processing in three ways, he said:

1. Use VASRD Codes

The third page of the application asks retirees to itemize disabilities using diagnosis codes, known as VASRD or VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities. CRSC boards need the four-digit codes to verify that a disability is combat-related. Many applications filed so far lack these codes, often because the VA didn't provide them to retirees. Some retirees who tried to get them from the VA in June were turned down, so they filed incomplete applications.

Since then, VA officials have notified their regional offices to cooperate with CRSC applicants by running something called an M-13 screen to produce a list of diagnosis codes for each retiree and each VA disability. Meanwhile, VA is arranging for CRSC boards to have rapid access to such data on their own to allow quick verification of disability codes. That has taken "a little longer than we had hoped," said Tower. But in time, he said, applicants won't have to provide codes. "But we would still like them to do that, at least for a while…so their applications make good sense."

2. Provide Original Rating Documents

Another problem with many applications is that retirees provided copies of the most recent disability rating decisions, an increase perhaps of the rating from 40 to 60 percent, but did not provide the original rating decision. Only the original explains the basis for the disability. It is particularly important, Tower said, for applications involving "presumptive" diseases to prove a relation to combat.

For example, Tower said, the VA presumes that veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder have a service-connected illness. The CRSC board has to look behind that presumption to see if the stress is combat-related. Was the stress caused, for example, by an accident during weapons training or a house fire, which likely would not qualify for CRSC.

3. Avoid 'Kitchen Sink' Syndrome

Too many applicants are sending along copies of their entire medical histories and VA disability files rather than select pages that describe combat-related injuries and how they occurred. "If you send in six pounds of documents ... so we have to read through every cough, cold, and flu, that's probably an application they set [aside] and say, 'We can get more people approved if we [first review those who] provided the six medical pages ... and marked it for us with yellow highlighter so we can get right down to the origin of the disability'," Tower said. "Don't send us everything ... What we need to know is whether you were in a job or assignment that seems to correlate to the exposure, and then we need to know you got that disability there and how it happened."

Processing of some applications hinges on policy decisions that have not been made yet but soon will be, Tower said. One is whether CRSC will be paid based on a retiree's actual VA disability rating or a VA determination that the same veteran is 100-percent unemployable and therefore is paid more. Another is the level of CRSC payable to persons who are so disabled they get a special monthly compensation on top of their disability compensation.

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Syndicated columnist TOM PHILPOTThas covered military affairs for more than 25 years, including six as senior editor of Navy Times. He writes free-lance magazine articles, primarily on defense issues. His work has appeared in Washingtonian, Reader's Digest, and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazines. His book, Glory Denied, is now available in paperback. To send feedback on MILITARY UPDATE columns, e-mail Tom at milupdate@aol.com.