Thousands of combat-disabled veterans don’t qualify for certain military benefits. A West Texas Marine is trying to change that.
MIDLAND, Texas (KOSA) - There’s an odd loophole in military benefits that keeps combat-wounded veterans who served less than 20 years don’t get retirement benefits.
“You never should really have to think twice about whether your country is going to take care of you,” said Midland resident and Marine Jerry Fuentes.
The loophole affects veterans like Fuentes, who served for more than a decade and did two combat tours before suffering serious injuries from IED explosion.
“I know it sounds a little odd that injured in combat, 13 years in, would have to fight for retirement, but I honestly did,” Fuentes said.
But what Fuentes gets in retirement is then taken from his disability. Even as he suffers from nerve damage that limits his mobility, as the current law stands, he can’t get both disability and retirement.
“I’ve never seen my military retirement to this date, and that’s where the Major Richard Star Act would come into play,” he said.
The Major Richard Star Act (H.B.1282/S.344) would expand retirement benefits to over 40,000 veterans whose careers were cut short due to combat injuries. More than 6,000 of those veterans live in Texas, the most of any state.
A version of the bill exists in both the House and Senate. In a devastating blow, it wasn’t included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
That could’ve been the end of the Major Richard Star Act, but it’s garnered new life by garnering over 290 co-sponsors in the House. This newfound popularity allows it to potentially come to a vote on the House floor.
“We were all very surprised [we reached 290 sponsors], but we’ve done a fantastic effort engaging with lawmakers and making them aware of the bill,” Fuentes said.
One of those co-sponsors is Rep. August Pfluger (R, TX-11).
“Obviously, I’m a little disappointed that this wasn’t part of the NDAA this year, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come as a standalone bill,” Pfluger said. “I think that’s really the next action, to see how we can get this to the House floor.”
While it seems likely the bill will get to the House floor, the Senate might be more difficult. Support there isn’t as broad, and Texas senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have not sponsored the legislation. Fuentes said ‘Star Act’ supporters have repeatedly reached out to both senators without success.
CBS7 reached out to both Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Cruz for this story. Sen. Cornyn’s office said they are looking into the legislation. Sen. Cruz did not respond to our request for comment.
Despite not having success reaching some of the state’s highest lawmakers, Fuentes, other veterans, and a growing number of lawmakers continue battling to help America’s forgotton wounded continues.
“I think in the last few years, the government has made steps in the right direction, but it’s still not to a point where it needs to be,” Pfluger said.
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