For Mary Ann Mackin, a retired nurse, this Veterans Day has new meaning: It marks the official end of a 20-year battle with the U.S. government over pensions for nurses who cared for the nation's veterans.
In August, the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial agency within the federal government, sided with 158 nurses who wanted to retroactively receive full pensions for part-time work they performed over four decades for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The order became official late last month when the government chose not to appeal the ruling.
Mackin, who began her fight for a full pension in 1989, chose Veterans Day to gather with other VA nurses in her attorney's Pittsburgh conference room to pop a bottle of champagne and toast their success.
A half-dozen retired nurses and the 20 or so listening in on a conference call thanked Mackin, 73, for her persistence — and the attorneys who backed them.
"We don't know how long it's going to be before we get our money, but we're a happy bunch," said Mary Klepek, 75, of Gaithersburg, Md., who worked as a veterans' nurse for 28 years.
Mackin estimates there are at least 75 other nurses nationwide who could enjoy increased benefits based on the board's decision. Timothy O'Brien, one of the attorneys who represented the nurses, believes the women will receive thousands of dollars each.
Mackin began working in the psychiatric ward of Pittsburgh's Highland Drive Veterans Hospital in 1958 after agreeing to work for no one else and to be on-call whenever needed. In return for that exclusivity, the nurses would receive full-time pension credit for part-time work.
In April 1987, however, the law was changed in an attempt to punish doctors who were abusing the pension system.
Mackin retired in 1997 after working nearly 38 years. She started retirement with a 25 percent reduction in her benefits and remained determined to win what she believed she and her colleagues rightfully deserved.
In 2002, Mackin thought the fight had ended when Congress passed legislation meant to rectify the issue. The government, however, argued the legislation was not retroactive and refused to pay. The October decision ended the argument. The government was instructed to recalculate the nurses' pensions and pay them sometime this month.