Originally created 11/19/96

Group plans suit to restore veteran's benefits



A new military service group will file a constitutional claim against Congress to restore eroding medical benefits for veterans and retirees, the group's founder said Monday night at Fort Gordon.

"We're going to resolve the problem through the Constitution," said Rudy Singleton, founder of the Coalition of Retired Military Veterans. "We were formed to regain our lost, promised medical benefits."

Once they can raise an initial $25,000 to hire Michael Kator, a Washington attorney, the group will file suit against Congress to fight Tricare and other changes in the military health care system, Mr. Singleton told about 40 retirees at Fort Gordon.

Under Tricare, military retirees older than 65 will still be seen at military treatment facilities on a space-available basis. But Tricare benefits don't extend to the older retirees, who are covered by Medicare.

Some retirees say Medicare premiums, combined with the supplemental insurance they now must purchase, make medical care more expensive than it was under CHAMPUS, the insurance-based plan replaced by Tricare.

In the upcoming lawsuit, the retirees will liken free medical care to civil service retirement benefits. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that civil servants were entitled to retirement benefits, a form of "deferred compensation." The retirees will argue that free medical for former soldiers is also deferred compensation, said Mr. Singleton, a retired Marine from Sumter, S.C.

The retirees claim they have proof - in enlistment posters, handbooks and regulation guides - that the government guaranteed them free health care in exchange for their military service.

"We fulfilled our part of the contract," said Joe Bongard, a local representative for the group. "All we want is for the government to fulfill theirs."

But officials have said the so-called guarantees were simply good-faith promises, not binding, legal contracts, that the government can no longer afford to keep.