2002-06-05 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

By John Toscano


Disabled Vets Try To Collect Both Pension And Disability

Disabled veterans and their advocates are hoping for a twin victory this session of Congress—enactment of legislation to give them the right to collect both disability and retirement pay and provision of the funding to give real meaning to the new legislation.

At present, the House has given preliminary approval to spending $516 million in 2003 and $5.8 billion over the following five years for veterans with the severest disabilities to get both disability and retirement pay.

In the Senate, a budget committee has passed a bill calling for spending almost the same amount as in the House’s bill, also for veterans with the severest disabilities.

Senator Harry Reid (D–Nevada) has said that when the budget plan including funding for the disabled vets comes up for a vote on the Senate floor, he will offer an amendment providing for spending enough money to give all veterans with any disability both retirement and disability pay.

Last year, Congress passed a bill saying disabled vets were entitled to both benefits, but it left providing the money up to President George W. Bush. He did not. The vets hope the situation will be different this year.

The disabled vets are trying to correct a situation dating back to 1891 when a law was enacted barring disabled vets from receiving both retirement and disability pay. In many cases, when a disabled vet receives his retirement check, the disability payment is deducted from it. In some cases it reduces the pension payment to zero. A correction in the 1891 law appears long overdue.

COPING WITH 9/11 STRESS: Any day now, North Shore University Hospital at Forest Hills will launch a program to help the elderly in that area to cope with stress generated by the September 11 attacks.

According to a press report, the program will focus on seniors who have been neglecting their medical care, who have not been sleeping well or who have been neglecting visiting family because of airport hassles or fear of flying.

Elderly outreach workers from the hospital will visit senior centers, churches and synagogues and homebound seniors in Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills and Kew Gardens and parts of Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing to try to reach those who may have stress problems.

The hospital state-sponsored outreach program called Project Liberty, recently received a $668,800 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to address the possible September 11 stress fallout.

AARP JOINS LAWSUITS: Using its 35-million membership rolls and prestige to try to win drug benefits for seniors, the senior advocacy organization AARP (American Association of Retired People) has joined three lawsuits brought against pharmaceutical firms for alleged anti-trust activities designed to keep less costly generic drugs off the market and out of seniors’ reach.

The federal court suits were brought by Prescription Access Litigation, a Boston-based coalition of about 75 health and senior groups from across the county. They charge that some brand-name pharmaceutical companies have stifled competition and blocked the production of lower-cost generic drugs. They do this by using subterfuges to extend their patents beyond the time when those patents are set to expire. This delays the production of generics for as much as 30 months.

In announcing the AARP action, AARP Executive Director Bill Novelli said, "We are not out to attack the American pharmaceutical companies. We are out to attack soaring drug costs."

The drug firms have denied the charges and have sought to have the suits thrown out. A spokesperson for them charged, "AARP has chosen to team up with the nation’s trial lawyers, and that’s not going to resolve the nation’s drug access problem."

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