“Congress is presumed to know the terrain against which it legislates… If Congress can appropriate billions for this aspect of national defense and not know how it is accounted for, then God save the Republic.” - Chief Justice Mayer - U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit
Today’s veterans enjoy unprecedented care and support, but we have not always offered previous generations of veterans all of the support that we indeed owe them. How quickly we forget that if not for their sacrifices, we’d speaking German or saluting the Rising Sun.
The Korean war was called the Forgotten War because it was sandwiched between and overshadowed by the dual traumas of WWII and Vietnam. We forget that in three years of fighting in Korea, we lost nearly 37,000 men. Contrast that with 4,000 dead in Iraq, the 10,000 or so casualties since September of 2001 or even the 58,000 U.S. servicemen killed in Vietnam over 10 years. Korean War vets served just as valiantly as any generation of soldiers. They sacrificed heavily; indeed proportionately even more so than present-day veterans, but while Presidential candidates dangle free college tuition, fewer, shorter deployments and cutting-edge medicine in front of today’s veterans, most of these retirees have been forgotten, as have many of their brethren who served in WWII and the broken the promises that were made to them in return for their service.
Master Sergeant Floyd Sears is but one of these forgotten vets. He served his country proudly in the Air Force during both Vietnam and Korea from 1951 until he retired with an honorable discharge in 1971. He is representative of an entire generation of loyal veterans who served their country honorably until retirement, yet were quite literally stripped of their health care benefits by Congress. He belongs to the Military Grass Roots Group (MGRG); an organization of military retirees who are actively trying to persuade Congress to restore that broken promise before these men are all dead.
During WWII and the Korean War, recruiters promised military recruits—at the behest of the military leadership—that they and their eligible dependents would receive free health care for life at military health care facilities if they served honorably for 20 years. This promise had never been ratified nor acquiesced to by Congress, but they funded the retirees’ health care for decades. In 1956, the first law covering military health care was written, but it excluded retirees. Despite this, the promise of free medical care continued to be made with the full knowledge and blessing of the military leadership until at least the early 1990s.
Beginning in the late 80s and into the 1990s, numerous base closures were conducted. Along with the base closures, military medical facilities were also closed, stressing an already burdened system. Priority was given to active duty personnel and retirees were essentially shut out of their own medical system. When I was being treated for my injuries, I personally met retirees who were made to wait months for their appointments, traveled burdensome distances at their own expense, in some cases having to spend the night in another city just to get treatment. And just as in the civilian world, change was needed in medicine. Thus in the 1990s, TriCare was born. TriCare was the military version of the HMO and was designed to fix the service deficiencies in military medicine. But it wasn’t the answer. Retirees over 65 who were eligible for Medicare were not eligible for TriCare but could retain their previous space-available coverage if they signed up for Medicare. As a practical matter, even less space was available then before at military facilities and the waits for retirees over 65 became even longer. Many were forced to retain private insurance or purchase Medicare Part B supplements if they wished to maintain any standard of care. And thus the promise that this country made to take care of an entire generation of veterans was broken.
The issue was litigated in federal court in 2002’s Schism vs.. United States. The court found that the promise of free health care for life was in fact extended to these veterans in good faith and that the government acknowledged such promises and funded the care. But on appeal, it was determined that the recruiters and their superiors who blessed the promotion of this benefit were acting without statutory authority and thus were not bound to keep the promise. The Supreme Court has decided to step clear of this minefield and has refused to review the lower court’s ruling. This leaves one final remedy for this breach of contract and that is for Congress to change the law allowing these men to collect that which they fought so valiantly for. But since that figure is in the tens of billions of dollars and the decision affects so many—nearly 1.5 million veterans who entered service before 1956 and were 65 of older by 1995—the odds are stacked against them.
The history of this case is clear. These men were promised free, lifetime health care for them and their eligible dependents after 20 years of service. That promise was still being made as late as 1992. Their acceptance of that offer and the government’s funding and provision of those benefits created an implied, in-kind contract. That contract was then breached and the government is using arcane federal regulations to dodge its responsibility.
A man is only as good as his word. These men are leaving us at an alarming rate. The least we could do is to provide the care that was promised to those who defend our freedoms. We owe them that. As a nation, if we cannot keep our promises to the very patriots whose sacrifices and blood debts ensure our continued freedom and survival, then as Chief Justice Mayer noted, God save our Republic.
On this Labor Day as you contemplate the fruits of your own labor, email your congressman and Senators and demand justice for these men.
Jayme Evans is a veteran of the United States Navy, military analyst, conservative columnist and an advocate and voice for disabled and other veterans. He has served for many years as a Subject Matter Expert in systems software testing, and currently serves as a technical lead in that capacity. He has extensively studied amateur astronomy and metallurgy, as well as military and US history.
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