Wounded Warrior Project and Surviving Spouse Tonya Star Push for Passage of Major Richard Star Act
Originally from Texas, Tonya Star is a former secondary teacher and principal of 15 years. She is the wife of Army Major Richard Star, a post-9/11 veteran who contracted cancer due to toxic exposure while deployed in the Middle East. He was forced to retire prior to reaching his 20 years of service because of his diagnosis.
Tonya and Richard married in 2019 when he had stage 4 lung cancer, becoming his full-time caregiver. Sadly, Major Star passed away in February 2021, but Tonya is passionate about keeping her husband’s memory alive through her advocacy efforts, which she started alongside her husband.
The Major Richard Star Act is a legislative priority for Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). The bill currently has bipartisan support from 65 Senators and 315 House members. The Major Richard Star Act would allow veterans who were medically retired prior to reaching 20 years of service due to combat-related injuries or illnesses to receive both their retirement pay and VA disability compensation at the same time. As the law stands now, military retirees must have at least 20 years of service in addition to a disability rating of at least 50% to collect both benefits. All other military retirees are required to offset or forfeit a portion of these benefits.
In terms of eligibility under the Major Richard Star Act, former service members medically retired from the military with less than 20 years of service and who are eligible for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) would no longer have their benefits reduced by the offset. This includes those who were retired for injuries sustained in combat and combat-related training.
To help Tonya and the close to 50,300 combat-related retired veterans who are unable to rightfully receive both their DoD retirement and VA disability compensation, we encourage you to you take action and join Tonya and WWP in telling Congress to pass the Major Richard Star Act now.
Q&A with Tonya Star
Tonya may have become a caregiver after her husband’s cancer diagnosis, but she also became a full-time advocate. Tonya has championed this bill with her husband – and without – and she hopes for a win, for her family and the thousands of post-9/11 veterans this bill impacts.
Tonya helps answer some questions about her husband, the heroic Major Star, and this important legislation.
Question: How did you and Major Richard Star first meet?
Answer: We actually met in College Station, Texas, where he was stationed, and we had mutual friends from church. I was at church, and he was at church, and we went to lunch together and that’s how we met. Ours was what you would consider a non-traditional love story, meeting somebody in your late 40s; we both had families and adult children from previous marriages, and things are just very different when you approach dating from that point in your life. So, we started seeing each other, but he was in the reserves and six months after we started dating, he was unexpectedly deployed to Kuwait to replace an officer who ended up getting sick.
Q: The process of being medically retired is notorious for its confusing forms and rules that discharging veterans must learn on the fly. How did you and Rich know that a law needed to be changed?
A: Rich started having his initial symptoms when he would be going on his runs while still in Iraq. When Rich got his diagnosis, Walter Reed had plenty of support services to help us and walk us through the process. However, Rich knew that financially our benefits were not adding up. We knew from the beginning that Rich had stage 4 cancer and that these benefits would be important for us. It was then that we knew something had to be changed. It was pretty immediate.
Q: Rich lost his courageous battle with cancer almost exactly a year after the Major Richard Star Act was first introduced in February 2020 by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R, Fla.-12th District) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D, Calif.-25th District). Since you started this journey, what moments have impacted you the most?
A: I think it’s getting to meet the veterans and the families this bill would impact. Everyone has a story that is tragic and unique. It is hard to describe when something is so profound and on such a large scale. All the families that this would impact. Sitting with them and hearing their stories. Investing in them.
Q: How do you think passing the Major Richard Star Act would affect post-9/11 warriors?
A: I think that it would do a HUGE amount for self-esteem – like they matter and what they did was important. Helping with their mental health. It’s not just a rubber stamp; this will affect their day-to-day life. Help them provide for their families. My dad was a Vietnam veteran, and I know that those veterans just wanted to come home to a nation that appreciated what they did. Like their lives mattered. Like they won this battle. This would be their win.
Q: In March 2023, Wounded Warrior Project flew in warriors from all over the country to advocate for legislation that would benefit post-9/11 veterans. What would you like to say to the warrior alumni who came to Washington, DC, to advocate for the Major Richard Star Act?
A: I think for me, it’s “thank you.” It’s so much gratitude for all those who have taken it on. Especially those who have taken this on even though it is not their battle. To those who are fighting for this – not for them but for their fellow veterans – I can’t thank them enough.
Tonya has two adult sons and currently resides in northwest Georgia with Otis, Richard’s retired service dog.
WWP strongly believes that veterans medically retired as a result of injury, incurred in combat or not, deserve these benefits to honor their service. Regardless of the time they spent in service, these veterans defended this country and have earned these benefits through their extraordinary sacrifice.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.