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Vet shows distress with flag

Oak Harbor resident and disabled American veteran Bob Barber hopes his distress signal of an upside-down American flag will draw attention to the fight over concurrent receipt disabled American veterans are waging with the Bush administration. - Christine Smith
Oak Harbor resident and disabled American veteran Bob Barber hopes his distress signal of an upside-down American flag will draw attention to the fight over concurrent receipt disabled American veterans are waging with the Bush administration.
— image credit: Christine Smith

Oak Harbor resident Bob Barber is irritated, and he’s turned that state of mind into a visible sign of distress.

He’s hoping to start a movement, beginning here on Whidbey Island and spreading across the nation, of people who will rally in support of his cause.

Barber is flying the American flag upside down from a flagpole on the front lawn of his home on SE Fifth Avenue. Along with the upside down flag, which indicates a time of distress, is a sign that explains his reasoning.

Barber is a disabled U.S. military veteran, and he thinks that disabled vets are getting cheated financially. He wants to help put a stop to it.

At issue is the more than century-old ban of something called “concurrent receipt.” That means that retired disabled veterans cannot receive their regular military longevity retirement pay and Veterans’ Administration disability pay at the same time. Whatever disability pay a veteran receives is offset by a deduction of an equal amount from the monthly retirement check.

“I’m losing the amount of my retirement, because I earned that,” Barber said. The same is true for all disabled veterans.

The sign attached to the flagpole explains that Barber will fly his flag in the “proper manner and with all due respect” when Congress passes a bill that overturns the ban on concurrent receipt, and the president signs it into law.

A bill including the sweeping change made it through the Senate in June. However, it has been publicized that administrative aides to President Bush say he will veto the bill.

While rescinding the ban on concurrent receipt is part of the Defense Authorization Bill, the defense budget for the coming fiscal year, the U.S. Office of Budget and Management sent a letter to lawmakers indicating that the president does not support concurrent receipt, Congressman Rick Larsen said Monday.

The administration’s objection, Larsen speculates, is the cost associated with allowing disabled veterans to collect both payments.

“I wholly disagree with that line of thinking,” Larsen said. “I have been very active in supporting the bill.”

The House version of the Defense Authorization Act calls for concurrent receipt for veterans who are 60 percent or more disabled, while the Senate version provides for full funding, Larsen said. Congress will likely move toward providing full funding, he said.

The full repeal of the ban is expected to cost about $30 billion over five years, and affect about 671,000 disabled retirees, according to a report in the Aug. 26, 2002, issue of Navy Times.

“I’ll be writing to the president and expressing to the president what the strong opinions are of the veterans I represent,” Larsen said.

The bill that includes concurrent receipt has strong support overall.

“I have no knowledge of anybody that disagrees with this except the president and the administration,” Larsen said.

After spending 23 years active-duty in the Navy, Barber retired with an injury to his back, which occurred on the job. He says he’s losing about $25,000 per year because of the ban on concurrent receipt. He says he didn’t ask to get permanently injured on active duty, and so the disability payments should be completely separate from the regular retirement benefits he earned.

Barber volunteers regularly at Oak Harbor’s chapter of Disabled American Veterans. He said he sees first-hand the impact the ban can have on disabled veterans’ lives, living on less money than they would if the ban didn’t exist.

“I’m going to contact every DAV office in the country. And I’m going to send (information) to every senator and representative in the country,” Barber said last week. “And that will be out of my own pocket.”

He also hopes that the inverted flag and sign increases the awareness of the civilian population about the issue.

“They may want to help,” Barber said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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