Tuesday, January 29, 2008


From NPR:

Army officials in upstate New York instructed representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs not to help disabled soldiers at Fort Drum Army base with their military disability paperwork last year. That paperwork can be crucial because it helps determine whether soldiers will get annual disability payments and health care after they're discharged.

Now soldiers at Fort Drum say they feel betrayed by the institutions that are supposed to support them....

[A VA] official said the VA used to help soldiers with the paperwork, but Army officials saw soldiers from Fort Drum getting higher disability ratings with the VA's help than soldiers from other bases. The Army told the VA to stop helping Fort Drum soldiers describe their army injuries, and the VA did as it was told.

... private attorney Mara Hurwitt points out that the Army has a financial incentive to keep soldiers' disability ratings low.

"The more soldiers you have who get disability retirements, the more retirement pay is coming out of your budget," Hurwitt says....

I'm no expert on this, but it seems clear to me that the real problem is that the military's system for assessing disability is rotten to the core. Last year, The Nation and ABC reported on the case of Army Specialist Jonathan Town, whose hearing loss from a rocket attack was ascribed to a preexisting personality disorder (yes, I'm serious) by the Army, a determination that led to a non-medical discharge and the denial of disability benefits. The Army Times last year found that anyone who tried to pursue a full evaluation faced "long waits, lost paperwork and months or even years away from home" -- and determined that the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement actually dropped from 2001 (for most of which we weren't at war) to 2005 (in the thick of two wars that had gone on for several years).

So the real problem isn't that some soldiers are getting VA help and others aren't -- it's that without help, apparently you're likely to get screwed. That's a disgrace.

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