FORT HOOD — Nearly 500 retirees from across the country converged on Fort Hood for the 39th annual Retiree Day on Saturday. They came to reunite with former comrades, take advantage of opportunities to network with veterans’ advocate associations and communicate concerns regarding retiree benefits.
“We support our retirees. Those words mean something as a grateful nation,” said Charles E. Green Sr., director of Fort Hood’s Directorate of Human Resources. “But things are not going to get any easier. And, there’s going to be more belt-tightening. It’s inevitable across the board.”
One of the major topics of discussion is the backlog of claims in the VA system, which recently put a new program in place to process claims more quickly. The VA has divided the claims into three categories: express, core and special operations, according to Bert Meza of the National Disabled American Veterans Association.
“The VA had a backlog of 50,000 claims six months ago. Today, they are down to less than 20,000,” Meza said. “We track these issues for retirees and have watched the system improve.”
The DAV manned a mobile unit with three members from its national headquarters at the event. Retirees did not hesitate to share their concerns. Other issues brought up by veterans: the policy of offsetting payments of Social Security benefits and other federal benefits by the amount of VA compensation; maintaining the integrity of the VA Disability Compensation System and Rating Schedule; and comprehensive benefits for caregivers of veterans of all eras.
“Funding continues, but we don’t want to short our retirees of benefits that they not only earned, but that they deserve,” said Elijah King, a retired command sergeant major who works with the Fort Hood Retiree Council. “Retirees most want to know if (retiree) services will still be available at the same level. We know there will be cutbacks.”
Camaraderie drew most of the retirees, several from other states, to the event.
“This is my opportunity to get together once a year and see old friends that I served with,” said Killeen resident Jack Oliver, who was a pilot in the military. “We should get together more often. But we rely on this event to bring us together.”