GROTON, Conn. – Retired Master Chief Radioman Paul Dillon was called back to active duty to be briefed by senior government and military personnel on issues facing military retirees, August 10-14.
Dillon is the director of the Retired Activities Office onboard Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London and also sits on the Secretary of the Navy’s (SECNAV) Retiree Council. He was issued active duty orders for a special work assignment to participate, and just finished his third year of a four-year term. Dillon said reading his length of service on his most recent Leave and Earnings Statement gave him some perspective on his work and the time he has dedicated to it.
“I’ve been involved with the military for so many years it didn’t really hit me until I looked at my Leave and Earnings Statement and it said, ’58 years of service,’” said Dillon. “At my age I don’t know if that’s a record or not. Members of the council when activated typically go to Washington and sit on the SECNAV Council. This year the council’s get together was done virtually. Despite the virtual format, members discussed close to thirty issues for their report to the SECNAV. The co-chairs are the former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Jim Herdt and Lt. General Pete Osman from the Marine Corps, and we’re in it for the concerns and welfare of retirees.”
Dillon and his colleagues who serve on the council have been combating a threat to retiree and veteran benefits known as “erosion of benefits,” which has proven a tireless and constantly-moving foe. In February 2018, Dillon began his crusade to get blue water Vietnam veterans who were affected by the toxic defoliant Agent Orange recognized for coverage by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In October 2019, Dillon and the Retiree Council’s efforts as well as the efforts of the Veteran Service Organizations came to fruition when the bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously and was signed by President Donald Trump to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. Those interested can read more in the earlier Dolphin articles “Being for the Benefit of Those Who Served” and “Retirees Kept Up-to-Date on Benefits.”
Dillon said there is more work to be done, as some veterans are still not covered due to the secretive nature of their duties while serving in Vietnam, namely submariners.
“In order to receive those benefits, Sailors have to prove to the VA that they served in the blue waters of Vietnam by producing deck logs; ‘I was on this ship, here’s the deck logs showing I was there,’” said Dillon. “To this day, the deck logs of submariners are still classified. I personally know submariners in this area who served in Vietnam waters and are suffering from Agent Orange but can’t get recognition from the VA. My paper to the SECNAV said all we need to know, without going into what they did, is if the submarines served in the blue waters of Vietnam let us know, and if so, and that Sailor has a Vietnam Service Medal. That should be enough to prove they are eligible to receive recognition which is long overdue.”
Also on the subject of medical benefits, Dillon said the issue of the Defense Health Agencies (DHA) proposed cut of some 18,000 military medical billets is a major concern for degradation of healthcare for those who presently serve but also those who have since hung up their uniforms honorably. Also, those in reserve components can find themselves in a strange situation Dillon referred to as the ‘gray area.’ Those making the transition to being fully retired and drawing a pension and health care benefits face long delays in receiving those benefits. Dillon addressed this problem in his issue paper to the SECNAV. Another reserve issue was addressed involves mobilized guardsmen and reservist.
“Did you know the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 authorized reserves to be mobilized and we are mobilizing them to no end?” said Dillon. “For every 90 days in any fiscal year a reservist is mobilized, they can deduct three months off their retirement age. Upon reaching 60, they are eligible full retirement benefits. However, I see reservists retiring in their 50s for pay due to the number of times they have been activated, but the issue I brought up is that even though they’re getting a retirement check they’re not authorized to go on TRICARE at the reduced rate until age 60. TRICARE Reserve Selected is extremely expensive at $1,066.26 a month per family, whereas it’s $600 annually for TRICARE Prime as a full retiree. Strange, Congress has no problem in sending them in harm’s way, but holds back on their eligibility for Health Care at a reduced rate.”
Dillon stressed the importance of veterans associations, saying they serve two crucial purposes: to be a voice for veterans and retirees to Congress, and to keep the former up-to-date on their rights and benefits.
“The erosion of benefits is something I am always concerned about,” said Dillon. “They have changed since my day, but it’s something we have to battle all the time. That’s why it’s important to belong to a military service organization. Whether you’re a joining the Association of the United States Navy, Military Officers Association of America, the Fleet Reserve Association, there are many out there. I know how they work. They form a coalition in D.C. and go before Congress and tell them what’s going on and they lobby for the protection of our benefits.”
Not content to simply fight the erosion of benefits, Dillon and those like him are also fighting for the expansion and enhancement of benefits for those who have served their nation with honor, as well as their surviving spouses. The council has for some time been calling for the repeal of the “Widow’s Tax,” the offset of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments for surviving spouses who are also entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
“A surviving spouse who presently receives DIC is subject to a dollar-for-dollar reduction of SBP payments, which can result in SBP being either partially or fully offset,” said Dillon. “We are pleased that the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020 has modified the law that requires an offset. By 2023 the widow will get both SBP and DIC without any offset. It took a number of years to get that benefit for those widows.”
Dillon, who has volunteered for 22 years at the SUBASE New London Retired Activities Office, says his proudest moments are when he assists widows of retirees who, in their darkest hour, don’t know where to turn for assistance in obtaining their benefits.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Fleet and Family Support Center Retired Activities Office onboard SUBASE New London is currently closed and providing remote services only. Retirees with questions or concerns can reach Paul Dillon via cell phone by calling (860) 884-2766 or by e-mail at NavRet2@aol.com.