Lawsuit filed over medical care issue
SIKESTON - Among the most well-known promises offered as an enticement to enlist in the U.S. armed forces or to stay on and make a career of it is the promise of free health care benefits for life.
Military pay has been always lower than for civilians, according to Col. George E. "Bud" Day. Documents going back as far as 1918 promise, however, "if you joined the military you could serve 30 years and retire with 75 percent of your pay and free lifetime medical care," said Day.
The longevity-retirement system goes back at least to the Civil War, according to Day, and promises of free health benefits for life used as an incentive to enlist date back at least to 1918.
Day said during World War II, the deal was changed to offer 50 percent of their salary and lifetime health benefits after only 20 years of service.
"As late as Nov. 7, 1997, they were still publishing that same offer," said Day, when it was used to recruit lawyers into the service as judge advocates. Dozens of similar deals were offered as late as 1991.
But then something changed.
"In 1995, they kicked us out of the military hospitals and said: 'Go get your medical care from Medicare,'" said Day.
Veterans were placed on the Medicare A program. "In order to get a doctor we had to buy Medicare B," said Day. "We lost our free medical care there."
Day speculated it was because President Clinton despised the armed services. "None of us could respect him," said Day.
"I was so upset when I learned of this, I sued them personally," said Day, who is a trial lawyer.
Once news of Day's lawsuit got out, "phones rang off the hook for five days," he recalled, and his office was filled with veterans wanting to help out. "There would be 20 or 25 of them in my office all day long."
With "well over a million people involved," according to Day, it became obvious he needed to refile as a class action lawsuit.
Day refiled Dec. 11, 1996, as a class action suit under the names of World War II combat veterans by the last name of Reinlie and Schism, who in addition to their service as a B-17 pilot and a Navy PBY gunner, respectively, were dedicated volunteers to the cause.
A summary judgment issued around March 1998 ruled that no one was officially authorized to make the promises, according to Day.
They appealed to the federal circuit court.
After reviewing "all kinds of documents that indicated that promises had been made and clearly these people were recruiters," according to Day, the federal circuit court reversed the trial judge's decision Feb. 7, 2001, and found the promises were made and were authorized.
The government responded with a motion for a rehearing by the a court made up of all the judges on the circuit on the reversal.
Day said the chief judge and two others have already seen the evidence and ruled in favor of the veterans once when they ruled on the appeal and reversed the decision. "So I only need three more," said Day, "and I have a slam-dunk case."
In addition to the annual $550 per year for Medicare B premiums, to receive care comparable to that they had previously, veterans have also had to purchase Medigap supplemental policies at a cost running between $200-$400 per month.
As a result, most of those included in the class action suit stand to regain the maximum $10,000 or at least come close.