For a pdf copy of our letter, download here
June 12, 2017
US Congressman Ro Khanna
California’s 17th District
900 Lafayette Street, Suite 206
Santa Clara, CA 95050
Dear Congressman Khanna:
Located in San Jose, California, the Veterans Supportive Services Agency, Inc. (VSSA) is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as an Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charitable agency. Staffed by mostly volunteers and established in January 27, 2011, VSSA’s sole purpose is to provide life-time enhancing supportive services to US Veterans and families.
Currently, VSSA is serving over 1,300 clients, and has helped over 150 veterans attain100% service-connected disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Though we are located in San Jose, our Veteran clients originate from throughout the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, State of California and some parts of the United States.
We are writing to you in response to President Donald Trump's plan, as included in his budget, to end Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit payment to seriously disabled Veterans once they reach retirement entitlement age of sixty-two (62) with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Eventually, this proposed budget would impact approximately 225,000 Veterans.
Background: According to the VA, in order "To establish entitlement to compensation as if 100 percent disabled based on individual unemployability (IU) a Veteran must be unable to secure or obtain employment by reason of service-connected (SC) disability." In other words, a "Veteran's unemployability is a result of SC disabilities." Their service-connected disabilities are so severe that they cannot continue to retain their current employment, or obtain any substantially gainful employment now or in the future.
Once a Veteran receives 100% total disability rating based on IU, more than likely the Veteran will not work again. When the Veteran stops working, this Veteran will discontinue contributing into her/his Social Security Retirement Account. If the Veteran has worked at least forty (40) quarters or ten (10) years contributing into Social Security, this Veteran will eventually receive a small amount of Social Security Retirement Benefits once this Veteran reach the retirement age of 62.
On the other hand, as included in one of our examples, if a Veteran stops working and discontinues paying Social Security Taxes before fulfilling the minimum requirement of working at least forty (40) quarters or equivalent to ten (10) years in order to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits, this Veteran will not be qualified to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits.
Examples: At twenty (20) years old, Leo C. decided to serve our country and joined the United States Army. While in the Army, his Occupational Specialty was 11B 10 Light Weapons Infantry. He eventually served for three (3) years, a year of which was served in Afghanistan. While serving in Afghanistan, he experienced and witnessed several traumatic events resulting in being rated at 70% with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Shortly, after his three (3) year separation from the Army, he worked sporadically for ten (10) years prior to him being declared unemployable by his VA Psychiatrist. Today, Leo is rated at 70% PTSD but because of the severity of his service-connected disability, he is being paid at 100% totally disabled rating. With a 100%, he is being paid at approximately $3,400 a month because of his wife and children.
Leo is now thirty-six (36) years old. In twenty-six (26) years, Leo would reach the age of sixty-two (62). At this time, the President's Budget Proposal would have Leo retiring with Social Security Retirement Benefits. But Leo doesn't qualify. Even though Leo doesn't qualify, he will have to give up his VA IU 100% disability payments.
At this time Leo's children are no longer dependent and Leo is now receiving 70% at $1,445.71 (today's rate). When he was at 100%, Leo was receiving a $3,071.11 a month (also today's rate). Without his IU, he will only receive $1,445.71, a total loss of $1,632.40 or 53% reduction in his monthly family income. He will lose 53%, or $1,632.40 upon reaching the age of sixty-two (62). Imagine the debilitating financial impact this loss would bring to Leo and his wife at retirement.
David G. spent eight (8) years, between 1977 though 1985, serving our country with the United States Navy. David suffered numerous injuries while serving our country and as time moves on, these injuries continue to get worse that by April 1, 2016, at age thirty-five (35) he receives VA 100% IU rating.
Because his service connected disabilities made him unable to continue working, he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Subsequently, the SSA approved his SSDI application allowing him to continue receiving Social Security Disability Benefits rather than waiting to receive his Social Security Retirement Benefits at the age of sixty-two (62).
The Budget proposal by the President would result in David losing his IU when he reaches sixty-two (62). Like Leo, David, at today's rate, would be receiving $1,576.84 on his 70% rating and $2,915.55 on his IU. At retirement age when the Social Security Retirement kicks in, David would lose the difference between his 70% and his IU totaling $1,576,84 or a 54% reduction. Because he is already receiving SSDI, by the time he reaches sixty-two (62), his SSDI would be converted into SSA Retirement Benefits with no gains and no loss. Amount would remain the same.
The VA was very wise in having the IU policy. The IU is designed to compensate those of us whose injuries are so severe that we could not continue to work or to obtain any substantial gainful employment. As you can see, approving the President's proposal will have a tremendous financial impact on Veterans who are receiving 100% VA IU ratings. As our examples have shown, these financial impacts could result in Veterans living on Poverty leading into homelessness.
There are many more Leos and Davids among our disabled ranks. What is being proposed and the impacting consequences on the Leos and Davids are nothing short of travesty and injustice. Is this the way to honor those of us who suffered injuries while serving our country by placing us in jeopardy, in poverty with the eventual results of homelessness?
As a Veteran who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, I hope our country would be more sensitive to those of us who suffered lifetime injuries. Don't discard and ignore us because our usefulness is over. Think where our country would be in the future if this is the way we treat our Veterans today.
I hope you could find it in your heart to vote against the President's proposal and leave IU alone as it is.
Tito A. Cortez, MSW
Vietnam War Disabled Veteran - US Army
Founder and Volunteer Executive Director
US Senator Dianne Feinstein, California
US Senator Kamala Harris, California
US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, California’s 12th Congressional District
US Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California’s 13th Congressional District
US Congresswoman Jackie Speier, California’s 14th Congressional District
US Congressman Eric Swalwell, California’s 15th Congressional District
US Congressman Jim Costa, California’s 16th Congressional District
US Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, 18th Congressional District
US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, 19th Congressional District
US Congressman Jimmy Panetta, 20th Congressional District
Supervisor Dave Cortese, President, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors
Mayor Sam Liccardo, City of San Jose
Rose Herrera, former Vice-Mayor, City of San Jose
Johnny Khamis, Councilmember, District 10 and Veterans Community Liaison, City of San Jose
L. Schreiber, Commander, American Legion, California, 13th District
Fran McVey, Chairperson, National Guard and Veterans Affairs Commission, Santa Clara County
David Sanders, President, United Veterans Council, Santa Clara County
Warren Finch, President, Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 201