Justices Refuse to Hear Veterans' Benefits Case; Promise of Free Medical Care Broken

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 3, 2003 | Go to article overview

Justices Refuse to Hear Veterans' Benefits Case; Promise of Free Medical Care Broken


Byline: Frank J. Murray, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Supreme Court ended a legal battle by battalions of aging World War II and Korea retirees yesterday, leaving them without the lifetime free medical care recruiters promised them when they signed up.

Without comment on the merits, justices refused to consider overturning last year's decision against the veterans by the full Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which was sympathetic and advised the veterans to seek help in Congress.

The military promised recruits who entered the service from 1941 through 1956 that those who served for 20 years would be eligible for free medical care in military hospitals the rest of their lives. But Congress never approved such benefits, and the Pentagon stopped providing the care in 1995.

Government attorneys told the high court that simply reimbursing past medical expenses for 1.5 million retirees would cost $15 billion. That would not include the cost of future care for the retirees.

Thousands of the veterans who were promised medical care die each week. The lead plaintiff in the case died March 30 at age 76.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. William O. Schism had filed the Supreme Court appeal and was lead petitioner in the case, Schism v. the United States. Yesterday, the court granted the motion by his only child, Mary Jane Short, to substitute her name, then denied the plea to hear the dispute.

"It's a sad day for World War II-Korea era warriors who gave their all but have been rejected by their government," said George E. Day of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., attorney for the Schisms, retired Lt. Col. Robert Reinlie, and an unnamed generation of veterans in similar situations.

"After 20 years of care in military hospitals, my wife and I were kicked out and forced to rely on Medicare," Col. Reinlie, a veteran of the Army and Air Force, said yesterday. "This is not what I was promised when I pledged to serve my country for 20 years. I'm astonished that at the age of 82 years I must continue to fight for the medical care I earned."

Mr. Day - an Air Force retiree, Medal of Honor recipient and former fighter pilot who was imprisoned in Vietnam - said yesterday that he will turn to getting Congress to pay those bills. His efforts included cartoon billboards in the Washington area and a rally at the Capitol.

"There already is a bill pending in the House and a bill in the Senate. I will be putting my focus on getting those passed into law," Mr. Day said from Salt Lake City in an interview in which the ever-optimistic veteran predicted passage against all odds.

"What that will accomplish will basically be to make health care free. What I would be looking for initially would be to first fix the matter of having to pay for free care, and secondly see if I can get some retroactive compensation out of Congress for these people who already have given so much," Mr. …

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