Change in Policy at Pentagon Scales Back Veterans’ Benefits
In March, the Department of Defense adopted a policy change that limited the definition of combat-related disabilities, drawing criticism from some veterans advocacy groups who say the change has cost some injured veterans thousands of dollars in lost benefits, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The policy change followed the enactment of a "wounded warrior" law in January that allowed veterans injured in combat and combat-related operations to collect disability severance from the military and disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In a letter to the Disabled American Veterans, William Carr, deputy undersecretary of DOD, wrote that the department had to make the policy change to protect the "special distinction for those who incur disabilities while participating in the risk of combat, in contrast with those injured otherwise."
According to Carr, veterans injured in combat should receive more benefits than those with "disabilities incurred in other situations (e.g., simulation of war, instrumentality of war, or participation in hazardous duties, not related to combat)."
DAV has criticized the policy change as a "shocking level of disrespect for those who stood in harm's way" and is lobbying to have the change rescinded.
Kerry Baker, associate legislative director of DAV, said, "This is going to hurt a lot of people," adding, "It's one of those things that when you first look at it, you think: 'Wow. How can this be?'"
In a letter to lawmakers, DAV accused DOD of "mutilating" the statutory definition of combat-related disabilities as part of a "deliberate manipulation of the law."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that the policy change has limited benefits improperly for some veterans.
Levin said, "That was not our intent" with the passage of the wounded warrior law, adding, "When the disability is the same, the impact on the service member should be the same no matter whether the disability was incurred while training for combat at Ft. Hood or participating in actual combat in Iraq or Afghanistan" (Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, 11/25).
"It's not too much to ask that we bind the wounds of war," and although soldiers injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have received "excellent" medical care, "I worry a lot about the wounds we don't see, the ones we don't yet fully understand," such as mental health disorders and traumatic brain injury, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, writes in a Times opinion piece.
He writes that many soldiers have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, TBI or both, adding that "it doesn't help that there is still a stigma attached to mental health problems."
Mullen writes, "We have to move past that. We have to change our culture. Leaders at all levels need to step forward and seek for themselves and their people the counseling they all deserve" (Mullen, Los Angeles Times, 11/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.