Legislators Right A Wrong, Let Left-Out Vets Buy Back Time

Here’s a quiz to test the logic of civil-service law.

You enlisted in the military on May 7, 1975 and spent your entire service as a cook at an Army base in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Now you’re employed by New York State. Are you eligible to buy up to three years of your time for pension credit? What if you enlisted on May 8, 1975 and spent your entire service in an infantry division in the demilitarized zone in South Korea?

Until last week, the first scenario would have earned you buyback rights, but not the second. The Korea vet officially served during peacetime, after the Vietnam Era ended on May 7.

The Veterans’ Equality Act grants all military veterans in state public-retirement systems, regardless of dates of service, the right to buy three years of their time, as long as they’ve worked for the state for at least five years. Paying the amount they would have built up in their accounts had they been at their state jobs instead of in the armed forces will boost their pensions and allow some to retire earlier. The Senate passed it unanimously, and the vote in the Assembly was 133 to 10.

Those who served in Afghanistan will receive the benefit for the first time. So will veterans of the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia. (The unit memorialized in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down” was based upstate.)

Growing Number of Women

Women who until the last decade weren’t allowed to serve in combat units are now eligible in much larger numbers.

So is Robert Browne, a Long Island public-school Teacher with 28 years’ combined active and reserve Army service, including a six-month stint in Afghanistan.  Mr. Browne, who presented the line-cook vs. overseas-infantry scenario above on his blog, called the previous law “nonsensically particular” about who deserved the benefit.  “If you served during Desert Storm but were in Israel, shooting down SCUDs over Tel Aviv, you [weren’t] covered because New York State [didn’t] recognize Israel as being ‘in theater’ during Desert Storm,” he said in a phone interview.

Another friend was on an air base in Turkey during that conflict.

“Those pilots flew literally 5,000 missions against Saddam Hussein,” he said—but like Israel, Turkey wasn’t considered a combat zone. They were out of luck.

A 14-Year Battle

Advocates have been seeking the change in the law for nearly 14 years, since a 2000 law gave the right only to those in certain strictly-defined conflicts. Over the years, Mr. Browne said, it repeatedly stalled in committee despite dozens of co-sponsors but was approved without opposition in one legislative house or the other three times.

The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature.

We urge all members to call the Governor's office at 1-518-474-8390, Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 AM to 5 PM and leave a message in support of the Veterans’ Equality Act - bill number S7839.