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Veterans corner

By John J. Guglielmi - jguglielmi@henryco.net.

According to an article on Military.com last month, the Department Of Defense started sending notifications to more than 133,000 veterans who may qualify for a refund of federal taxes paid on disability severance pay dating back to Jan. 17, 1991.

Under federal law, veterans who suffer combat-related injuries and who are separated from the military are not supposed to be taxed on the one-time lump sum disability severance payment they got from the military.

For years, DOD improperly withheld taxes on these payments from thousands of unsuspecting veterans who were typically unaware that their benefits were being improperly reduced.

In 2016 Congress passed the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act which directed DOD to identify veterans who have been separated from service for combat-related injuries and had taxes improperly withheld from their severance payments.

The law also required DOD to determine how much these veterans are owed so they can recover the withheld amounts, notify them of their eligibility for a refund, and tell them how to get that refund from the IRS.

Eligible veterans will have a year after they receive the notice from DOD to file a claim for the refund. 

Court Determines Military Burn Pits Caused Lung Disease in Troops

A number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan told me about burn pits that dot the landscape and are used to destroy all sorts of items. One veteran described a burn pit as a Dante’s Inferno. “You name it and it has been thrown into a pit,” the veteran said. “Desks, chairs, ammunition cases, used oil, plastic barrels. I even saw a truck rolled into the pit.” Jet fuel is often used to ignite the pit. If you are not familiar with burn pits, there are a number of videos posted on YouTube that are very informative.

Thousands of U.S. military personnel and private contractors whose health was compromised by the dense black smoke of burn pits -- and who were then denied proper treatment -- may finally be vindicated by a recent court ruling.

A judge under the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office for Workers’ Compensation Programs decreed last month that open-air burn pits -- where thousands of chemicals were released into the air after trash and other waste were incinerated at American military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are connected to lung disease.

The decision marks a victory for the nearly 64,000 active service members and retirees who have put their names on a Burn Pit Registry created by the Veterans Administration (veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/#page/home), bringing them one step closer to getting adequate medical coverage, something that has never been guaranteed. Private contractors who were also exposed to the burn pit toxins also have been denied coverage.

“This case has legitimized the disease,” former contractor Veronica Landry of Colorado Springs, whose case was a part of the recent ruling, told Fox News. “There are many people out there who are still not getting the treatment they need.”

Soldiers have fallen gravely ill or even died from exposure to burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they are not the only ones who have gotten sick. Civilian workers and private contractors like Landry are also suffering an array of maladies including cancer, respiratory problems and blood disorders and, like military victims, they say they are being ignored.

But private employees don’t even have the Veterans Administration to lean on. Landry filed her case with the Labor Department for this very reason.

Landry said in her testimony that she was exposed to smoke from the burn pits “every day” while working at Mosul Air Force Base in Iraq for Kellogg, Brown, and Root [KBG], and that “every plastic water bottle that every soldier drank out of was also burned in the burn pits.”

Landry was sent home early after developing PTSD; making matters worse, she started to develop problems with her lungs and other ailments such as migraines, chills and dangerously low blood pressure. She has been in out of hospitals for nearly 10 years.

John J. Guglielmi’s office is located in the Henry County Courthouse, 101 S. Main St., New Castle, Room 114. Email him at jguglielmi@henryco.net.