The Veterans ' Disability Benefits Commission (VDBC) was established by Public Law 108-136 and signed into being by President Bush in November 2003. The VDBC 's charter states they are to study "whether a veteran 's disability or death should be compensated " and at what level if any.
Since the VDBC was first established it was obvious to veterans and veterans ' service organizations (VSOs) that the Commission had one thing in mind and that was cutting veterans ' benefits. The VDBC is made up of 13 political appointees. Four were appointed by Democratic Members of Congress, four more by Republican Members and the other five by President Bush. The VDBC is truly a 9-4 politically-stacked deck even though they like to refer to themselves as bipartisan. The legality of the VDBC has been questioned by some VSOs.
As the VDBC 's meetings progressed, veterans began to notice a "secretive " quality to the workings of the Commission. Last fall the VDBC issued a list of questions they would study. They asked for input and gave veterans just a few days, over a Holiday weekend, to respond. The questions signaled the direction of the VDBC. One question was: "Does the disability benefit provided affect a veteran 's incentive to work? "
Now, "secretive " has taken on a new meaning. In a recent editorial written by Arthur H. Wilson, National Adjutant for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) we find: "Optimism was in short supply at the Commission 's March 16-17 meeting as some of its members maneuvered to authorize collecting data about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits paid to veterans who also receive VA disability compensation. That was done with a view toward an offset [reduction] of disability insurance if the veteran receives disability compensation from the VA. "
Wilson continues: "A move to sidestep proper procedures and hold a secret ballot on the matter was postponed, but the issue is expected to resurface at the commission 's meeting in May. If so, it could lay the groundwork for cutting or eliminating veterans ' benefits as a way of saving the government money. The idea that disability compensation is some kind of income security or welfare program cheapens the service and sacrifice of disabled veterans. That kind of thinking might also open the door to cutting off VA compensation when a disabled veteran becomes eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. Veterans ' benefits are separate and distinct from Social Security, so receiving payments under both programs is not dual compensation for the same disability, as some have tried to argue. "
It appears the VDBC is about evenly split on the idea of studying the SSDI issue. But the Chairman, retired Army Lt. General Terry Scott, is adamant about getting this on the agenda and wants the power to move forward. And, he wants the help of Congress to push his agenda. Scott has taken the liberty of writing to Congress asking them to interpret their own law that established the VDBC.
This presents a problem. It is unconstitutional for Congress to interpret its own laws. Congress passes laws and the courts interpret them. But, this hasn 't stopped General Scott.
In an email to the House and Senate Armed Services and Veterans ' Affairs Committees, General Scott writes: "Some Commissioners believe that this charge [the VDBC 's charter] should be interpreted broadly to mean all related benefits received by disabled veterans under the laws of the United States to include ...SSDI payments ...the Chairman would appreciate clarification of the intent of Congress in writing or in person during the next Commission public meeting May 19, 2006 "
General Scott 's unconstitutional request has raised major concerns among the VSOs. Christopher J. Clay, General Counsel for the DAV, has written to the four Chairmen involved. In part, Clay 's letter states: " ...[General Scott 's] request, if honored ...would violate one of the fundamental principles which have guided the government of the United States for more than 200 years. That principle is the separation of powers ...Congress exercises the sole power to enact laws while the Judicial and Executive Branches have the power to say what those laws mean ...neither a committee of either the House or Senate nor the full Congress may interpret a statute after it is enacted, without passing a new law ...The DAV is unaware of any precedent for the congressional interpretations requested by the Commission Chairman. If the Committee responds to the Chairman 's inquiry, it will set a precedent that the courts are no longer the sole arbiters of disputes over our laws. "
Now, veterans play the waiting game. Will any of the four Congressional Committees respond to General Scott 's request and interpret their own law? Will General Scott get enough votes from VDBC members to push ahead with his idea to study a Social Security offset (reduction) for veterans ' disability compensation? We will know by May 19.
But, what we don 't have to wait for is the fact that General Terry Scott and other members of the VDBC want to cut veterans ' benefits and will try to hold secret votes and try to get Congress to, unconstitutionally, interpret its own laws.
General Scott must be reminded that veterans ' disability compensation is not welfare. It is not to be confused with welfare. It is not to be confused with any other sort of compensation. Veterans receive disability compensation because they earned it. Many earned it on the field of battle. They don 't deserve to lose it in a Commission hearing.