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There are two sets of qualifying disabilities, one more complicated than the other.   On the simple side, any qualifying retiree with a disability rating of 10% or higher that is associated with award of a Purple Heart will be eligible for the new special compensation. Under this rule, the special compensation amount will be based on the disability rating awarded for the combat wound, rather than any higher rating the retiree may have been awarded for a different reason. 

The other, more complicated, eligibility rule covers retirees awarded disability ratings of 60% or higher for other illnesses/injuries attributable to combat situations, combat-oriented training, hazardous duty, or instrumentalities of war. The legislators based these categories on the Defense Department’s current definition of “combat-related” disabilities, as described in DoD Instruction 1332.38. The following is a summary of the descriptions in that Instruction, which presumably will be used to guide DoD eligibility decisions for the new program.

  • Direct result of armed conflict: including a war, expedition, occupation of an area or territory, battle, skirmish, raid, invasion, rebellion, insurrection, guerrilla action, riot, or any other action in which Service members are engaged with a hostile or belligerent nation, faction, force, or terrorists. 
  • While engaged in hazardous service: including, but not limited to, aerial flight duty, parachute duty, demolition duty, experimental stress duty, and diving duty. 
  • Under conditions simulating war: resulting from military training, such as war games, practice alerts, tactical exercises, airborne operations, leadership reaction courses, grenade and live fire weapons practice, bayonet training, hand-to-hand combat training, rappelling, and negotiation of combat confidence and obstacle courses (does not include physical training activities, such as calisthenics and jogging or formation running and supervised sports). 

  • Caused by instrumentality of war (incurrence duringa period or war is not required): includes such causes as wounds caused by a military weapon, accidents involving a combat vehicle, injury or


sickness caused by fumes, gases, or explosion of military ordinance, vehicles or material. (DoD example: an injury resulting from a fall on the deck of a ship while participating in sports would not normally be covered, since the sport activity, not the ship, caused the fall. But it would be covered if the operation of the ship caused the fall.)
Clearly, these guidelines allow for some judgment, so it’s uncertain how many people may qualify. Different Hill sources have offered estimates ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 eligible retirees, with cost estimates ranging from $4 billion to $9 billion over 10 years. The new Defense Authorization Act specifies that the Pentagon will be responsible for applying the above criteria to determine which VA disability awards qualify for the special compensation.

The defense bill also authorizes many other important initiatives, including:

*  A January pay raise of at least 4.1% for active, Guard and Reserve forces, with some receiving up to 6.5%, depending on grade and years of service.
*  A new assignment incentive pay up to $1,500 for members serving in designated assignments.
*  A new military leave authority that allows service members to transfer leave to another member, and authority for service secretaries to grant one-time emergency leave to prevent excess leave status.
*  Extension of authorities for certain bonuses and special pays for Reserve and active forces.
*  Extension of time (to 14 years, vs. current 10 years) for use of Montgomery GI Bill education benefits for the Selected Reserve.
*  Reinstatement of discretionary authority for DoD to allow officers to retire with 2 years time in grade (vs. 3 years) for retirements between Oct. 1, 2002 and Dec. 31, 2003.
Establishment of a Korea Defense Service
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