Report Recommends Increased Disability Benefits For Veterans

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Disability Benefits For Veterans

The 13-member Veterans' Disability Benefits Commissionon 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 Heraldreports. The 544-page report, based on a 2.5-year study, included 113recommendations to improve the disability benefits system for veterans.

According to the report, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairshave not provided veterans with adequate disability benefits or mentalhealth care. The report found that veterans who have post-traumaticstress disorder might not receive adequate care because of a lack ofcoordination among federal agencies and that VA often does notre-examine veterans who might have PTSD, in part because of efforts toreduce a backlog of disability claims.

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According to the report, "Congress should increase the compensationrates up to 25% as an interim and baseline future benefit for loss ofquality of life, pending development and implementation of quality oflife measures. In particular, the measure should take into account thequality of life and other nonwork-related effects of severedisabilities on veterans and family members."

The reportrecommended a shift in responsibility for assignment of disabilitybenefits to VA, which in many cases rates disabilities higher. Thereport also recommended that VA expand use of technology to reduce theaverage delay of 177 days for distribution of disability benefits toveterans and that veterans receive benefits for all service-relatedinjuries, regardless of whether they occurred during combat. Inaddition, the report recommended mandatory re-examinations every two tothree 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).

RetiredArmy Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott, chair of the commission, said, "Wehave come up with 113 recommendations -- some of them are cheap. Someare easy. Some are extremely hard and complex. Some of them, there is asignificant bill attached to it. But what we're hoping is that theCongress 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 recommendationsmight cost as much as hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10years (CQ Today, 10/3).

Eye Injuries

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 Todayreports. In addition, the legislation would establish a database tohelp track treatment of veterans who experience eye injuries to providemilitary physicians and VA with their complete medical histories.According to the Army, at least 1,126 veterans of the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan have experienced eye injuries that require surgery, andhalf of those veterans experienced temporary blindness in at least oneeye.

Eye injuries account for 10.7% to 13% of all seriouswounds among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that requireevacuation from combat, according to current and former Armyophthalmologists. Thomas Zampieri -- director of government relationsfor the Blinded Veterans Association, who plans to testify on Thursday at a House Veterans' Affairs Committeehearing -- said, "It still is hard for us to understand how such asignificant injury as combat eye wounds could have been beloweveryone's radar screen for four years of war" (Zoroya, USA Today, 10/4).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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