Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Withdraws Support for Proposal To Limit Disability Benefits
The Bush administration on Tuesday stepped back from supporting a proposal that would reduce disability benefits for many veterans, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that Congress and the administration need more time to research the proposed changes' long-term effects. Currently, veterans with disabilities receive military retirement benefits that are reduced by the amount they receive in disability payments, a policy that many lawmakers have sought to change. After several weeks of negotiations, the Bush administration and House Republican leaders suggested giving full benefits to more veterans but also narrowing eligibility for disability benefits. The proposed plan would limit disability benefit compensation to veterans who became disabled as a "direct result of the performance of duty," which the VA says would disqualify about 66% of future veterans from the disability program. Veterans groups and some lawmakers have criticized the proposal. In a letter sent Monday to the House Armed Services Committee Chair Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), four veterans groups said "the gross inequities that would result from [the plan] are innumerable." Further, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who head the Senate and House veterans' committees, respectively, said the proposal was made without consulting their committees. Principi acknowledged that the proposed changes might be reasonable for higher-ranking service members but could be harmful for lower-ranking members, who make up most of the veteran population. He added that it would be difficult to determine which disabilities are related to veterans' service (Wolfe, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/23).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.