Sunday, December 22, 2013

Retirement/Disability Pay Cuts: Personal Costs to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen & Marines

A veteran's etter to the Editors, the weekend Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2013
The new budget deal doesn't contain "a little" military-pension reform. It will have a devastating effect on the personal finances of active-duty and retiring service members. The proposed 1% annual reduction to uniformed service retired pay Cost of Living Adjustment will reduce their retired pay by 20% at age 62.
While portrayed as a minor change, a 20% reduction in retired pay and survivor-benefit values is a massive cut in military career benefits, a de facto tax and egregious breach of faith to those currently serving, retirees and their families. A sergeant first class or chief petty officer with 20 years service who retired in 2013 would realize an $82,982.20 penalty, 19.3% of his pension by age 62.
Furthermore, the proposal in the budget agreement actually eliminates the appropriate review process, failing to consider long-term readiness and retention outcomes.
Currently serving members look at how they, their families, retirees and survivors are being treated when making career decisions. If Congress arbitrarily cuts the retirement benefit for those who have served their country for over 20 years, there could be a lasting adverse impact on uniformed service career retention, and ultimately, national security.
Vice Adm. Norbert R. Ryan Jr. (USN, Ret.)
Military Officers Association of America

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Forest is Not One Tree

When I began to learn (and hesitantly practice) biblical peacemaking, I was stunned to see how often God opens ways out of intractable disputes.

I was so awed by my first encounter with Gods’ way of reconciling people that I didn’t fully appreciate that peacemaking grows in a forest composed of many majestic trees.

I began to recognize this deficiency when other Christians reacted in a guarded way to my advocacy of biblical peacemaking. Once I touted biblical peacemaking to a godly brother who responded,

“You mean that Matthew 18 stuff?”

A different response came from an elder of my church whom I admire:

“We have a lot of ministries; we can’t emphasize one ministry over others from the pulpit.”

At first I thought these brothers were discounting biblical peacemaking. I don’t think that now.

I think they felt uneasy about the way I seemed to push peacemaking out in front of other godly traits. In the Beatitudes Jesus outlined several:

Matthew 5:
2 And he [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
I became convinced that becoming a peacemaker means progressing along a spiritual learning curve. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones said of the “Beatitudes,”

“There is a definite progression in the thought; there is a logical sequence.”  [Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Ch. 9]
I see there is a progression by which God makes a peacemaker. Becoming an effective peacemaker involves God cultivating us to become the godly people Jesus described as “blessed.”  Therefore, a peacemaker should be poor in spirit, sorrowful over his or her own sins, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and willing to risk persecution. Wow!

Only Christ is the perfect peacemaker, but Christians who diligently seek Him will find Him. Finding Him, we can (and must) become peacemakers. Yes, there is more to it than “that Matthew 18 stuff.” However, we can do it if we believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.  (Hebrews 11:6)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Are we that cruel?

December 18, 2013

Hon. John Cornyn                                                                              Fax: 202-228-2856
United States Senate                                                                         Fax: 972-239-2110
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Cornyn

Shall we cheat the people to whom we owe the most: our Armed Forces veterans, and especially our disabled veterans? Are we that cruel?

The Dallas Morning News today reports that

“A provision in the budget measure [now pending] would hold down cost of living increases in benefits that go to military retirees until age 62 . . . [T]he curtailment would apply to the retirement benefits of veterans who leave the service on disability.”

I have seen disabled male and female veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and have wept for what has happened to the lives of these young people.

Years ago during Viet Nam I saw a young Marine, legless in his splendid dress uniform, struggle down the folding steps of an airliner in Harlingen, Texas, proudly coming home. Even now I weep with thankfulness for him and people like him. 

How in God’s name can Democrats or Republicans make these indispensable people take the punishment for our Nation’s fiscal foolishness?

I plead with Congress: Do not do this shameful thing to the veterans who have taken the hit for the rest of us.


Douglas M. Smith

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Was a Rat Before Becoming a Lawyer

Who could resist reading an article titled,  "I Was a Rat before Becoming a Lawyer"? The article appeared in the Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Bar  Association newsletter "Barrister," and made my day.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Disabled Five Months, Then Worked for a Lifetime

Allan Tibbels suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury at age 26 that left him a quadriplegic. Though drastically impaired, Allan said he was disabled for less than five months. Despite his weakened limbs, Allan worked for the balance of his life till he died in 2005 at age 55.

“He couldn’t lift a hammer, but he rebuilt a neighborhood” said the New York Times Magazine after his death. The Times continued,

“Over two decades, a man who couldn’t lift his arms built 286 houses.”

Allan was co-director for Habitat for Humanity in Baltimore, Maryland.

I first heard about Allan in 1998 when I was publishing a quarterly newsletter about Social Security disability programs. I asked him for an interview. Sitting in his office in his electric wheelchair, he related how he had applied for SSDI when he was injured, but dismissed the application and returned to work less than five months later. He referred to that period as “when I was disabled.”

Allan attributed his rehabilitation to God, support from his wife, family and friends, and a great workmen’s compensation insurance policy provided by his employer. The policy got him into the rehabilitation process promptly after his injury.

I know of no success story like that of Allan Tibbels among the people who I’ve represented in obtaining SSDI benefits. I know of many who’ve tried.

Many of my clients who won benefits wanted to work, but expressed fear of losing disability income and health care benefits if they tried and failed to keep a job.

These days the news media is getting cranked up over the increasing number of people applying for SSDI and receiving benefits. Many writers are obsessed with unscrupulous applicants, lawyers and doctors who they believe are abusing the program.*  Fewer publications give attention to structural factors that keep people on the disability rolls who might work.

A serious appraisal of the SSDI program should include looking into poorly understood structural flaws that keep beneficiaries with future work potential on the disability rolls out of fear – reasonable fear in many cases. More people working themselves off the rolls would bring significant relief to this financially stressed program.

The SSDI program needs structural changes to encourage disabled individuals with potential for recovery to try working. These include:

1. Promoting vocational rehabilitation (VR) early in the initial SSDI application process;

2. Granting cash and healthcare benefits immediately upon approval of a claim (abolishing the 5 month wait for cash and 24 month wait for healthcare);

3. Reducing costs elsewhere in the SSDI program to offset additional costs incurred for the above (for example, by giving applicants the option to choose time limited benefits in return for getting their benefits sooner).

Receiving immediate VR and healthcare benefits would stem the decline of many disabled workers and hasten their return to employment. It wouldn’t rehabilitate everyone, but would rehabilitate many and inspire others to keep trying. I hold this opinion based on thirty years experience providing legal representation to SSDI beneficiaries – many who were highly motivated to resume work when they first received SSDI benefits.

Let’s correct the structural flaws in the SSDI program even as we increase efforts to thwart abuse. Let’s go as far as we can toward providing immediate VR and healthcare benefits. This will motivate more applicants to approach SSDI like Allan Tibbels did, expecting to resume work. To many such people SSDI will become a way station and not an ultimate destination, and more funds can be directed to the people who lack the option of work.


* For example, Chana Joffe-Walt of NPR said 14 million people get a disability check from the government each month. Social Security Administration figures show 8.9 million disabled workers receiving SSDI benefits as of August 2013. If Ms. Joffe-Walt is referring to SSDI, she is mistaken. See Joffe-Walt, Chana (March 22, 2013). Unfit for Work, National Public Radio. Retrieved September 17, 2013, from See also, Rosiak, Luke (July 30,2013). EXography: Many disability recipients admit they could work. Washington Examiner.  Retrieved September 17, 2013, from Mr. Rosiak stated that benefit recipients in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability program “have more pain” than those in the SSDI program, a statement I find hard to take seriously. These articles have been widely circulated, republished, and referred to despite their obvious flaws.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Getting out of the bubble . . .

I grew up in a bubble where I assumed my parents' success in learning and life meant that I would enjoy the same success and its "perks". I was wrong.

At 74 I have lived long enough now to understand that it's not what you come into life with but what you do with it that determines success. I hope I have the privilege of doing something useful with what remains.

The great secret of success is learning to look at life through the eyes of someone who knows the truth about what is going on and what is worth achieving. There is one person who fits that description - Jesus Christ. All others fall short. Jesus is unique in that he always is willing to share his wisdom. I find many other people want to keep the secrets of their success to themselves. The reverse is true of Jesus.

As I see it, Jesus succeeded on earth because he was ready to accept his Father's will at every turn. Perhaps "eager" is a better word than "ready". Also when Jesus put his Father's will into practice, he did so humbly in a way that was likely to get the result his Father wanted.

If I had started my life with the same attitude as Jesus it would have taken a far different course. I would have spent many more years trying to create and not only consume good things. Also, I would have made better judgments about which things are good and which are not.

Every good thing comes down from the Father says James the brother of Jesus, and he is right. I have been privileged to do (what I consider) a few good things since I started to follow Jesus and they are good because they are connected to treating the interests of other people as equal or superior to my own. I have benefitted greatly from this approach when I have chosen to follow it and trusted God for whatever benefit he might have in mind for me. Of course I don't always behave this way but I wish I did.

If you believe in the God who created all things, then it just makes sense to trust him more than yourself for good outcomes. I believe in that God and have not been disappointed.

One great thing about following Jesus is he gives me a sense of purpose that makes me more alert to opportunities to do something useful, and a willingness to undertake things that seem beyond my capability. I remember things in my career that I would never have tried on my own.

In short, I recommend to you the study of Jesus. He can give you a clear view of why you are alive, and what to do with your life, and what to expect in the next.

Monday, May 27, 2013

“A true hero enshrines his individual identity by surrendering it . . .”

Thus wrote historian David A. Smith, in the Dallas Morning News, May 27, 2013.

Cook Third Class Doris Miller, a mess attendant on the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941 became the first black man awarded the Navy Cross for heroism in combat

With his ship under attack, burning and holed by two torpedoes, Miller moved wounded sailors to safety and manned a machine gun against enemy planes. A year later he died when a Japanese submarine sank another ship in which he served. 

Citizens in Waco, Texas, have designed a memorial to Miller on the banks of the Brazos River.

Author Smith concluded, 

“Memorializing someone isn’t merely an act of remembering them. To memorialize is to allow the memory of a person to adjust the way we live our lives.” 

Friday, May 24, 2013

“. . . the future is here. It just doesn’t go real fast.

Dallas Morning News, Staff Photo by Robert Wilonsky, used with Permission
The SolarImpulse, a sun powered plane landed at DFW Airport, Texas yesterday morning at 1 a.m. after an 18-hour flight from Phoenix, Arizona, traveling about 26 miles per hour. The flight set a distance record for solar powered flight says Robert Wilonsky writing for the Dallas Morning News.

On the progress of solar powered transportation Wilonsky commented, “the future is here. It just doesn’t go real fast.”

His words recall to me the promise of Christ: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Present tense. Matthew 10, verse 7.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Present tense. Matthew 5, verse 3.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5, verse 10. Again, Jesus uses the present tense.

Jesus offers His followers present encouragement – not just pie in the sky in the sweet by and by - and this in the midst of trouble.

Of course, the kingdom of heaven is coming fully in the future. Jesus also made this plain: “. . . Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25, verse 34.

As history moves to that wonderful conclusion, I pray that the people devastated by natural disasters receive strength and comfort both from Jesus’ present and future promises of the kingdom. I am thinking of the people who have been through tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, Granbury, Texas and Moore, Oklahoma.

Also, I pray that  Christians persecuted unmercifully at many places in the world receive strength and comfort from the same present and future promises of the kingdom.

As the Dallas Morning News writer said, “. . . the future is here. It just doesn’t go real fast.”

The principle he stated applies not only to air travel, but also to the unfolding of history.  When the future promised by Christ arrives, and Him with it, I know the awful wait will prove to have been worthwhile.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Life in perspective . . .

Belief in Jesus Christ brings the capacity to live in this world appreciating its moments of joy, 

looking forward to the next world and life unfolding as God always intended it to be.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, 
that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 KJV

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The word “tradition” brings to my thoughts people performing archaic rituals in dusty settings. Being a creature of modern times, I tend not to give old traditions their due; I tend to find many new traditions fascinating and older ones comparatively dull because of their familiarity.

Is tradition obsolete? Modern life is full of tradition. People hatch new traditions daily. Consider one example, the line of electronics fans that assembles at the “Apple Store” long before doors open to introduce a new product. I can affirm that this is a tradition because I see it happen over and over.

The habit of assigning importance to tradition therefore is not out of date. If tradition has importance, should we modern beings not consider the value of the old ones along with the new?

The tradition that has come to have first importance to me is, the tradition of believing in a God who created me and saved me from paying for my sin with an eternity of separation from Him. Belief in this tradition has saved me from feeling desperate many times, and will do so again.

When I see the way that desperate people live and die and inflict harm on other people in the process, as in the Newtown school shooting, I feel very sad that many in America would curtain from public view the tradition of belief in a Savior God who keeps feelings of desperation from swallowing me. If the tradition of Jesus Christ heartened  a few desperate people, wouldn’t it be worth the irritation it caused some others?

More deeply than I believe in the superiority of the MacBook computer on which I record these thoughts, I believe in the supreme compassion of the God who stooped to make His Son Jesus Christ a man and bring an end to the sin that can give birth to desperation.

I pray that the people who strive to hide news of Christ behind a curtain, while pushing forward news of new digital products, will reconsider. Shouldn’t digital miracles and spiritual ones both be freely available to Americans? As much as I love my MacBook, I don’t know of any lives it has saved. I know many lives that have been saved and renewed by Jesus Christ. I say, let people freely choose among traditions. I think that’s the American way.