Disabled veterans say they are not receiving compensation for their first month after discharge.
The Epoch Times spoke with United States Air Force Lt. Col. (ret.) Jackie Frederick, a former air battle manager with over 1,000 hours on the E-3 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft.
“Retiring or separating from the military is not easy,” Mrs. Frederick said. “You would think after millions of service men and women leaving the military that the process would be streamlined and without issue. It’s not.”
For most of her career, issues surrounding her health were “brushed aside” for fear of being grounded from flight. But as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s military COVID-19 vaccine mandate rolled out in August 2021, concern for a newborn baby quickly took priority over herself.
“I was a nursing mother, and the last thing I was going to do was take an experimental vaccine [that could be passed to my child],” she said.
In October 2021, Mrs. Frederick sought religious accommodation for the vaccine. She would also become eligible for retirement two months later in December. “My husband and I prayed about retiring and realized that God wanted me to move on to being a full-time wife and mom of four kids,” she said. Without ever receiving an approval or denial for religious accommodation, she and her family chose retirement after 20 years of service.
Six months before retirement, Mrs. Frederick started identifying all her medical issues for the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program, which allows service members to apply for disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) between 180 to 90 days before separation.
Short a PaymentMrs. Frederick said, “The toughest part of transition for a veteran occurs when they take off the uniform, say goodbye to their friends, and lose a sense of purpose while serving their country.” Additionally, she said, “A veteran is also faced with mountains of paperwork, checklists, medical and administrative appointments, major life decisions to be made regarding their future, and so much more.”
“The last thing a veteran should have to worry about is when they will receive their first retired and/or disability paycheck," she said, adding that "the payment process should be a no-brainer.”
Before being discharged, Mrs. Frederick was able to make sure all of her medical care and medical evaluations were complete. However, she couldn’t officially submit anything to the VA regarding disability pay until she received her completed DD-214.
The DD-214 is the military’s certificate of release of discharge from active duty and is “not even finished nor usable” to a service member until the day after he or she leaves service, she said.
As Mrs. Frederick neared the end of her career, the compensation she earned became a complicated issue.
“The Air Force stopped my paycheck on Nov. 15, waiting to see if I owed anything prior to giving me my final paycheck,” she said. Due to an issue calculating her military leave, or time off with full pay, her final paycheck was not received until March 2023.
What’s more, the benefits she expected to receive upon retirement were also hampered—and that’s when she noticed something of significant concern. “I was off orders Dec. 1 because I retired, and my disability [pay] should have started then because that was my disability effective date per the VA,” she said.
However, because a service member’s DD-214 is not available until after retirement or separation, the process to reach a decision on VA benefits can be delayed for at least 30 days until after discharge. “I didn’t get my disability rating until the middle of January, and after two months without pay, I finally received my first disability paycheck on Feb. 1.”
During the previous month of December 2021 Mrs. Frederick did not receive disability pay, despite “everything on [my] paperwork saying the disabled effective date was Dec. 1,” she said. “The VA said my pay was correct, even though an entire month was missing and basically said this is how it’s always been.”
What she cannot determine is “how does a retirement date and disability effective date not equal the payment effective date?” she said. “If [the VA's] purpose is to compensate military veterans for disabilities incurred while serving, then the VA should start payment right after a member is separated or retired.”
When reached by The Epoch Times for clarification, a VA spokesperson said in an email: "Generally speaking, concerning VA awards, benefits are paid starting the 1st of the month after the effective date for any Veteran awarded compensation.
Example, an effective date August 1 or August 31, award date is the 1st following the effective date, so September 1 would be the award date for either of those August effective dates and VA law enacted by Congress dictates that payment of an award is paid once the full month is completed in arrears, so first payment would be issued October 1 for the month of September."
Responding to this, Mrs. Frederick said, “It’s like they’re making it confusing on purpose.”
“They’re saying that after you separate or retire, your payment effective date is one month after, and then in the next sentence they’re saying the payment is in arrears,” he said. According to her, the VA is not equating the disability effective date with the payment effective date.
“Generally, an award of disability compensation is effective on the date of receipt of the claim or the date entitlement arose,” the spokesperson added.
'It Doesn't Make a Lot of Sense'Mrs. Frederick isn’t alone, as other veterans like Major (ret.) Eddie Mitchell (a pseudonym) has had a similar experience. Mr. Mitchell spoke to The Epoch Times using a pseudonym due to fear of reprisals from the government or Department of Defense.
Mr. Mitchell contracted COVID-19 while serving overseas in July 2021, fighting minor symptoms for about 10 days. In August, he was redeployed and returned to the United States. On his first day back to work in the country, a commanding officer demanded he receive the COVID-19 vaccination or face punishment. Having recently overcome the coronavirus, he reported to the medical clinic at his appointed time and requested medical consultation based on his past allergic reaction to a vaccine booster and a seven-year waiver from any shots or vaccines.
Regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, he was told “If you have a violent reaction to the first one, you don’t have to get the second one,” according to Mr. Mitchell. At this point, he inwardly resolved not to take the vaccine and made the decision to seek retirement after serving in the Air Force for over 25 years.
Mr. Mitchell had never officially informed anyone, especially any medical personnel, that he would not be taking the vaccine, having only received counsel regarding his medical history, which resulted in a total of two more visits, including an appointment with an allergist.
“It was wrongfully put in my medical records that I denied something I never did,” he said. “I was forced to retire to avoid the shot, because they refused to submit my religious exemption request.” He described the incident as “ridiculous” and “unethical.”
His retirement was held up by the local section commander, who told him the Judge Advocate General (JAG) was deliberating about what punishment they would formally recommend the MAJCOM Commander pass down to him.
After a month and a half, Mr. Mitchell’s retirement was finally approved. He retired earlier than planned, adding that he had “lost all faith in, and respect, for his military leaders.”
Like Mrs. Frederick, the process of acquiring disability benefits from the VA became troublesome. It took nine months after retirement for the VA to recognize an extensive number of injuries and symptoms. “I received back pay for those months, but the month of February was missing,” Again, an official retirement date and disability effective date did not coincide.
“It doesn't make a lot of sense, and we're talking about [a month of missing disability pay for] hundreds of thousands of veterans,” he said, questioning “Where’s this money going if we’re not getting paid?”
Seeking ReformMrs. Frederick has searched the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) as it relates to the payment effective date equaling the disability effective date to no avail. “It does not say anything about the disability date driving, or determining, when the payment start date should begin, so as it stands, the payment effective date should have been Dec. 1 which is in line with my disability effective date [ retirement date],” she said.
“The CFR needs a rewrite,” she said. “Currently the VA start payment date is based on the payment effective date which is 30 days after my disability effective date,” she said. She spoke with others who have a similar story. As a result, she suspects “they’re doing this for tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands—denying veterans their first month of disability.”
“[The VA] is abdicating their responsibility to pay disability [to eligible service members] for a month,” she said. “When you multiply that across the nation, how many people are they doing this to?”
“What’s needed is a simple rewrite of the CFR that specifies the payment effective date is actually equal to the disability effective date,” Mrs. Frederick said. “But changing this has huge monetary implications because so many people have been paid incorrectly—not according to their disability effective date.”
“The VA will have to pay all monies due to every disabled veteran since who knows when,” she said. “The VA knows they are saving an entire month of disability and someone, like Congress, needs to look into their budget and see what happened to the lost money so many of us should have received.”
Having contacted the VA multiple times about not getting paid for the month she should have been eligible for disability benefits, Mrs. Frederick said she was told “That’s just the way it is."
Potential LawsuitsThe Epoch Times also spoke to Nic Gray, CEO of Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group, which represented injured service members.
After reviewing the evidence provided by Mrs. Frederick with her permission, Mr. Gray said, “It's clear what is happening here, [although] I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a nefarious act by the VA.” According to him, “This oversight could be attributed to the usual bureaucratic mess we're accustomed to seeing inside government agencies.”
Mr. Gray identified “two major problems with the issue at hand” involving the VA. First, he said, “while the injured service member has access to the VA to treat their injuries on day one, it doesn't take into account the financial situation of the injured service member.”
Second, he said, “There's a potential massive class action lawsuit here.” He wonders how long disability payments have been distributed in this manner and how many service members have been affected. “You could be looking at tens of millions of veterans, not to mention dependents,” he said.