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Court Says Retired Veterans Can’t Double Dip on Pensions

November 18, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Veterans cannot ″double dip″ from the federal treasury by drawing both their full military retirement pensions and full disability pay, a federal appeals court says.

In upholding a lower court dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a New Mexico- based group of military retirees, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said the retirees couldn’t show they were being treated unfairly or that a law barring double dipping is unjustified.

Congress first prohibited veterans from receiving both retirement and disability in 1891. Beginning in 1944, veterans were allowed to receive the full tax-free disability payment by waiving an equal amount from their retirement checks.

The government has estimated that it would cost taxpayers more than $2 billion a year to allow veterans to collect both in full.

″It is hard to imagine a more rational basis for congressional action than fiscal restraint,″ the court said in an opinion issued Friday.

″For nearly a century, Congress has held to the consistent view that there was no entitlement to both retired pay and a disability pension for the same period of military service.

For over 40 years it has allowed retirees to elect which benefit they wish to accept. The balance it has thus struck is not only rational, it also bears a demonstrably fair and substantial relation to legitimate legislative objectives and does so without denying equal protection.″

The Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees, a group based in Albuquerque representing 2,048 military retirees, brought the lawsuit in 1984, seeking recovery of six years’ worth of retirement pay waived by the veterans.

They argued their constitutional rights were violated because disabled veterans who earn private pensions or federal civil service pensions are allowed to receive full disability benefits.

The government, however, argued successfully that Congress has a legitimate financial interest in limiting total compensation to an individual for government service.

The group’s lawyer, Jeffrey Glosser, said the ruling would be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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