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S. 344: Major Richard Star Act


Does the bill deserve five “stars”?

Context

Major Richard Star deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait with the U.S. Army Reserves. When he contracted stage 4 lung cancer as a result of burn pits and other damaging environmental conditions overseas, his wife Tonya quit her job to care for him full time.

Then Star encountered an unexpected financial surprise, when he learned that — because he hadn’t reached 20 years in the military — his disability pay from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) would be deducted out of his retirement pay from the Department of Defense.

Star pushed Congress to enact legislation that would remedy this little-known provision, meeting with lawmakers even as he approached the end of his life. He died in February.

What the legislation does

The Major Richard Star Act would allow any disabled veteran to receive both their full disability and retirement pay, regardless of how many years they served.

The Senate version was introduced on May 22 as S. 344, by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). The House version was introduced two days later on May 24 as H.R. 1282, by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL12).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislation honors America’s commitments to its veterans, without letting some legal technicality cause additional hardship.

“The brave men and women who return from serving our country should be able to receive the benefits promised to them,” Rep. Bilirakis said in a press release. “Military retirement pay and service-connected disability compensation are two completely different benefits. One does not diminish the merits of the other.”

“When it comes to our nation’s disabled veterans, we’ve got to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that’s prevented them from getting the full benefits they’ve earned,” Sen. Tester said in a separate press release. “[The bill] would fix the unfair offset that prevents thousands of veterans living with the wounds of war from accessing both their disability benefits and retired pay. And it honors the service and sacrifice of Major Richard Star, whose legacy lives on in our continued fight to ensure our men and women in uniform get the assistance they deserve.”

What opponents say

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statement of opposition, but it’s always possible somebody could oppose it on fiscal grounds.

The Congressional Budget Office has not “scored” the legislation, or provided an official cost estimate, which they only do when a bill passes out of committee. But the Senate lead sponsor’s press release estimated the legislation could affect up to 42,000 people, which could potentially cost tens of millions of dollars.

Odds of passage

The Senate version has attracted 45 bipartisan cosponsors: 28 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and one independent. It awaits a potential vote in either the Senate Armed Services or Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the latter of which Sen. Tester chairs.

Sen. Tester introduced a prior version in 2020 which attracted a somewhat smaller 31 bipartisan cosponsors: 21 Democrats and 10 Republicans. It never received a committee vote.

The House version has attracted 87 bipartisan cosponsors: 57 Democrats and 30 Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Armed Services or Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Rep. Bilirakis introduced a prior version in 2020 which attracted an even larger 101 bipartisan cosponsors, 67 Democrats and 34 Republicans, but never received a committee vote.

Last updated Apr 27, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 22, 2021.


Major Richard Star Act

This bill allows a veteran with a combat-related disability and fewer than 20 years of creditable service to receive retirement pay, without reduction, concurrent with disability compensation.