Appeal Board Rules For Option C Veterans

NOVEMBER 2003
- Final Word: Full Vets Benefit Allowed - For veterans, who retired with an Option C regular pension, they now
have the final word on whether they should receive the full amount of
their vets benefit, and the answer is yes. "Our patience has paid off,"
reports Legislative Chairman Bill Hill who is himself a Korean War
veteran receiving an Option C pension.

"Believe
it or not, it was over nine months ago - January of this year, to be
exact - that we reported on the initial decision handed down by DALA
(Division of Administrative Law Appeals), which found that the veteran
was entitled to his full benefit. And now we have a ruling by CRAB
(Contributory Retirement Appeal Board) upholding that favorable
decision," comments Hill.

To remind
our members, veterans, who receive a regular (superannuation)
retirement, are entitled to receive a vets benefit, which amounts to an
extra $15 for each year of creditable service up to a maximum of $300
annually. It had been the policy, set forth by the Public Employee
Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC), that if a veteran chose
to receive an Option C pension (leaving two-thirds of their pension to
a surviving spouse) then his vets benefit would also be reduced by the
same percentage factor that was applied to reduce his pension, usually
between 15% to 25%.

[Editor's Note: The Association filed legislation (HB 227) to extend the vets benefit to eligible disability retirees.]

Controversy Resolved

That
was the policy in place until two years ago when PERAC reversed itself
and issued its opinion that the veteran, who chose an Option C
superannuation retirement, was entitled to receive the full vets
benefit. (See January 2002 Voice.) Upon reviewing PERAC's opinion, some
retirement boards, like Barnstable and Hampshire Counties, decided to
pay Option C veterans their full benefit. (See July 2002 Voice.)

Included
among the boards, that acted on PERAC's new opinion, was the
Commonwealth's largest - the State Retirement Board. What this board
did was to pay the full benefit, with no reduction, to all eligible
veterans who retired on regular pension after PERAC issued its opinion
in September 2001.

With the CRAB
decision, the State Board will now review its records and adjust the
vets benefit for those who retired before PERAC's opinion. According to
Board officials, the decision will result in the state paying out some
$3.6 million in retroactive veteran benefits, with future vet benefits
increasing approximately $300,000 annually.

But
not all boards chose to adopt PERAC's opinion, with some questioning
whether the pension law authorized payment in full to these veterans.
In order to resolve the controversy, an appeal by the Teachers'
Retirement Board, challenging PERAC's opinion, became the test case
before CRAB.

First, we had a
favorable decision handed down by DALA, which initially heard the case
on behalf of CRAB. (See January 2003 Voice.) While DALA decided that
the veteran was entitled to his full vets benefit, it also ruled that
the surviving spouse would not receive two-thirds of the vets benefit.

Both parties then proceeded to the next step and filed objections to the DALA decision with CRAB itself. (See May 2003 Voice.)
PERAC took exception to that part of the decision, which did not allow
any payment to the surviving spouse, and the Teachers' Board objected
to the finding that the vets' benefit should be paid in full.

Late
this summer, CRAB issued its decision, which went even further than the
DALA decision and accepted PERAC's position entirely. It found not only
that the Option C veteran was entitled to his full benefit, but also
their surviving spouse should receive two-thirds of that amount.

Then
came the waiting game on whether the Teachers' Board would exercise its
rights under the pension law and appeal the CRAB decision further to
the state courts. By statute, the Teachers' Board had 30 days to make
such an appeal.

As it turns out, the
Board decided not to appeal. What this means is that the CRAB decision
resolves the controversy and stands as the final word in favor of
Option C veterans, on regular pensions, receiving their full benefit,
with two-thirds to be paid to their surviving spouses.

Veterans React

As
news of the decision filtered out to the membership by way of the
Association's telephone hotline and website, members called and wrote
the office. Here's a sampling of what some veterans had to say:

Paul
Cook landed on Utah Beach in WWII and, after coming home, began a
42-year career with Boston Fire. Recently, Paul published a book
chronicling his life as a firefighter, Ready to Roll and Ready to Die.

"I
realize that it will take some time for them (Boston Retirement Board)
to make the necessary adjustments. But I'm a patient man and will wait
for them to pay me the extra amount I would have gotten over the 15
years since I retired in '88," stated Cook.

"That money will come in handy. I can use it to buy copies of my book," he added jokingly.

Another
Boston retiree and WWII Army veteran, Jerry Colella, was also pleased
to hear the news. Having worked for the Boston Retirement Board for 38
years, Colella is able to bring an "insider's" perspective on the issue.

According
to Colella, "We can't forget that our pension law is very complex and
because of that, disputes over its meaning can take time, like it did
here. I've been reading about this issue in the bulletin over the past
year and a half.

"From the earlier
stories, I read that Bob Tierney had a lot to do with getting the vets
this extra benefit, and I also read where Tierney now heads-up my old
stomping grounds - the Boston (Retirement) Board. I'm really happy to
see that a man, like Tierney, who fought for vets, is now its director.

"It's
been 20 years since I retired back in '83. It's been this long and I
can certainly wait a bit longer to get my full benefit."

Another
WWII vet, Joe Morrissey served with the US Navy. Before the war, he
married his wife of over 60 years, Lillian, and they now live in West
Roxbury. Joe retired in '90 after some 19 years as a court officer.

"I
was listening to the Association's hotline and couldn't believe that
the vets had finally won. I was glad to tell Lillian that not only
would we be getting a nice retro check for about $600, but also that
she would still get two-thirds after I'm gone.

"She
had to put up with a lot, especially when I was away in the Navy, and
as far as I'm concerned it's only right she should get something. We
both will appreciate getting the check which should come in handy,
particularly if we have another bad winter like last year."

Like Morrissey, John Nangle of Norfolk also joined the Navy. But he served his country years later during the Korean War.

"Fortunately,
my wife Pat saw the (Association's) website after they had posted the
news, according to Nangle. "She couldn't wait to tell me and I had to
call the Association just to make sure."

Nangle's career spanned 31 years at MCI Norfolk. He retired in 1986 as a lieutenant.

"There's
no question we're looking forward to the check, which will make up the
difference for the 17 years that I've been out. That's particularly
true these days when the cost of things, like healthcare, only seems to
go up." Nangle's retroactive check will be for over $1,000.

After
serving in the Air Force as a member of the Presidential Honor Guard,
Gayle Sullivan went back to school where he met his wife, Virginia.
They not only completed their training as nurses together, but both
entered into public service with the Commonwealth.

After
31 years, Gayle retired in 1995, as a manager for Public Health. Not
surprisingly, Virginia Sullivan joined her husband, retiring at that
time from Public Health.

"I thought
when I retired that it didn't seem fair to subtract from such a small
benefit to begin with, but I figured what can you do about it," recalls
Sullivan. "There are men and women, who put on the uniform and made
sacrifices much greater than me, and it's only right they should get
the full benefit, however small. For them, I say thank you to those who
pushed to get this done."

Harvey
Malin of Canton heard the good news another way - by being persistent.
"I've been calling the (Association) office every so often to get the
latest. It just so happened I called right after Ralph White had gotten
the word that the Teachers' Board decided not to appeal to the state
court.

"I signed up with the Army
during the Korean War and after my discharge went back to college,
under the GI Bill, and completed my post graduate degrees." Malin put
his degrees to excellent use, teaching for 34 years and eventually
retiring from the Brockton school system in '91.

"Being
a member of the Teachers' system, I'm certainly pleased to learn that
my board decided to drop any further appeals. In my mind, there's no
question that the vets deserve this money."

And, Harvey, we agree.

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