Commission Calls for Increased Disability Benefits for Veterans
The 13-member Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission on Wednesday released a report that recommended as much as a 25% increase in disability benefits for veterans as compensation for lost "quality of life," the AP/Boston Herald reports.
The 544-page report, based on a 2.5-year study, included 113 recommendations to improve the disability benefits system for veterans.
According to the report, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have not provided veterans with adequate disability benefits or mental health care. The report found that veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder might not receive adequate care because of a lack of coordination among federal agencies and that VA often does not re-examine veterans who might have PTSD, in part because of efforts to reduce a backlog of disability claims.
According to the report, "Congress should increase the compensation rates up to 25% as an interim and baseline future benefit for loss of quality of life, pending development and implementation of quality of life measures. In particular, the measure should take into account the quality of life and other nonwork-related effects of severe disabilities on veterans and family members."
The report recommended a shift in responsibility for assignment of disability benefits to VA, which in many cases rates disabilities higher. The report also recommended that VA expand use of technology to reduce the average delay of 177 days for distribution of disability benefits to veterans and that veterans receive benefits for all service-related injuries, regardless of whether they occurred during combat.
In addition, the report recommended mandatory re-examinations every two to three years for veterans who might have PTSD (AP/Boston Herald, 10/3). The report called for the establishment of an "executive oversight group" to implement the recommendations (Yoest, CQ Today, 10/3).
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott, chair of the commission, said, "We have come up with 113 recommendations -- some of them are cheap. Some are easy. Some are extremely hard and complex. Some of them, there is a significant bill attached to it. But what we're hoping is that the Congress carefully looks at all 113."
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said that the committee will review the recommendations in the next few weeks (AP/Boston Herald, 10/3). Senate aides said that implementation of the recommendations might cost as much as hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years (CQ Today, 10/3).
In related news, several lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill (HR 3558) that would provide $5 million to establish a DOD center for research and treatment of eye injuries among veterans, USA Today reports.
In addition, the legislation would establish a database to help track treatment of veterans who experience eye injuries to provide military physicians and VA with their complete medical histories. According to the Army, at least 1,126 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced eye injuries that require surgery, and half of those veterans experienced temporary blindness in at least one eye.
Eye injuries account for 10.7% to 13% of all serious wounds among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that require evacuation from combat, according to current and former Army ophthalmologists. Thomas Zampieri -- director of government relations for the Blinded Veterans Association, who plans to testify on Thursday at a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing -- said, "It still is hard for us to understand how such a significant injury as combat eye wounds could have been below everyone's radar screen for four years of war" (Zoroya, USA Today, 10/4).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Wednesday reported on the report. The segment includes comments from Joe Violante, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, and Scott (Shapiro, "All Things Considered," NPR, 10/3). Audio of the segment is available online.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.