Veterans Furious After CBO Report Recommends Cuts to Disability Payments They Earned

veterans disability cuts
Staff Sgt. DeAndre Curtiss, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, veterans were outraged to learn that a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report recommended, among other things, cuts to veteran disability payments to mitigate the federal deficit. 

The fact that this recommendation even made it into a report means someone somewhere within the government pitched the idea to enough people to put it down on paper. With active duty military members struggling to feed themselves, let alone their families, and veteran homelessness on the rise thanks to inflation, it’s alarming that anyone in government would think cutting any benefits to those who sacrifice so much would be a good idea.

(Don’t worry, Ukrainian bureaucrats will still receive their salaries thanks to American taxpayers.)

So what brought us to this sad state where veterans across the country have to live in constant worry that the disability payments they earned may be taken away from them? The usual negligent half-cocked government management exercised by our elected officials and bureaucrats.

We Make Too Much Money… ?

The report from the CBO that had veterans in an uproar was published back in December. The CBO report was commissioned to find ways to reduce the staggering $723 billion federal deficit.

The report claimed that the government could save a whopping $253 billion over ten years if they just eliminated disability compensation for veterans who earn more than $170,000 a year. The argument behind this recommendation is that 1.5 million of the five million of us disabled veterans have household incomes that exceed $125,000.

Silly disabled veterans, making something of themselves post-military service.

To think that these veterans struggling with various physical issues and riddled with post-traumatic stress disorder overcame the odds that are stacked against them to start their own businesses, find worthwhile employment, and make some money for their families.

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With all that cheddar, why on Earth would any of them need the disability payments from the VA? Oh wait, could it be because the physical and mental injuries we endure while in uniform are unlike what our civilian brothers and sisters face?

Could it be because the likelihood that many of us will be able to work to the ‘normal’ retirement age is slim?

But hey, somebody needs to sacrifice for the federal deficit… so why not the population of Americans who are well-versed in sacrifice?

But There’s More

The CBO report included other tasty recommendations, including cutting income security programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Does SNAP sound familiar?

It should. Thanks to the rampant food insecurity felt by active-duty military members, many utilize SNAP benefits. 

But if taking away a grocery lifeline isn’t enough, the report also mentioned taxing veteran disability, which currently isn’t taxed, and not paying veteran disability for anyone who is rated below 30% disabled.

So why focus on the VA?

According to the CBO, the VA budget has increased:

“300% in real terms since 2000; it has increased by 35% since 2017.”

Add to that the VA paid four times the amount of disability compensation in 2021 than in 2000, at a heart-stopping $110 billion, even though the number of us veterans running around this great country has dropped 30%. How is that possible?

Some would argue that the VA is finally approving various disabilities as covered that they previously didn’t before. However, I would also venture to guess that my generation of veterans is suffering from more unique ailments, both physical and mental, than our older veterans.

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A Terrible Idea

Luckily, our hard-earned VA disability benefits are safe… for now.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said:

“We think it’s a bad idea, and we’re not going to do it. You have my commitment that we won’t do it.”

You think, Denis? Obviously, this is a terrible idea. 

First, it disincentivizes veterans to become entrepreneurs or strive to still contribute to the workforce post-separation. Second, it insults those who have given so much by insinuating we didn’t deserve our disability compensation with every limb lost, damaged backs and hips, torn up knees and souls, and any other battle wounds we carry with pride.

But, hey, we have nothing to worry about; the VA Secretary gave us his word, right? This is the same VA struggling with the rollout of the new Electronic Health Record (EHR) that we paid just shy of $10 billion to Oracle-Cerner.

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The same EHR has had six “catastrophic events,” four of which ended in casualties. In addition, this same updated system has caused mass confusion in scheduling appointments, issuing the wrong medications, and sometimes, not administering medication to veterans.

Excuse me if I’m not overly confident in anything coming out of the VA. 

Unique Barriers

The truth is veterans generally have a difficult time transitioning from the military into the civilian world, let alone those who are disabled. The Wounded Warrior Project conducted a survey this year that found:

“more than 80% are having financial difficulties. Sixty-four percent are saying they had difficulty making ends meet in the past year. And 1 in 6 is food-insecure.”

Of those surveyed, 48% said the top barrier to unemployment was mental health issues and psychological distress, with another 37% saying they struggle to transition their military skills to the civilian workforce. Add to that there are about 8,000 disabled veterans who have been denied housing and services across the country over “technicalities,” and it’s no wonder we face a higher risk of homelessness and suicide.

But how could any of this be? After all, the 2023 VA budget request had the following:

  • $153 billion for disability and pensions
  • $124 billion for medical care
  • $21 billion for education and vocational programs

The uncomfortable truth is that the VA budget is massive, and the department has become so large that it fails more often than it delivers. However, cutting any benefits that we have earned is not the answer. 

What We Value

I’m currently in Oklahoma, helping to move my parents out of their home and bring them to Virginia to live with us. You see, my dad was cut from his job just about a year shy of retirement.

Additionally, shortly afterward, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, so 2022 was not a banner year for my folks.

Luckily, thanks mainly in part to my pension and disability from the VA and my husband’s VA disability, we can take my writing on the road and move them in with us so they can spend their early retirement with their grandchildren. One of the contractors working on my folk’s house is also a disabled veteran who started his own business thanks largely to his VA disability.

He told me last week:

“I know they said they won’t take our disability, but I told my wife we need to plan and expect that they will someday.”

It’s a sad day in America that men and women who gave so much and still try to thrive now must worry that someday their benefits may be removed to mitigate the deficit.

Meanwhile, Chief of Diversity jobs are aplenty in the federal government, student loan forgiveness to the tune of $379 billion is hotly debated and anticipated, and reparations for Americans who have never endured slavery is being studied.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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