Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Veterans groups push for reform of disabled veterans benefits

by Elizabeth Gibson
Jan 24, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Veterans groups Thursday added their support to recommendations calling for modernization of a system that determines what benefits disabled veterans receive relative to severity of their wounds.

Now, the vets said, they want to see some action and enforcement from the government on recommendations made by the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission.

"You've got the riffle, squeeze the trigger," Todd Bowers, director of government affairs for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said at a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Representatives from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion said they like the ideas of updating the rankings that match benefits to disabilities.

They also want extra compensation beyond health care for the impact that wounds could have on quality of life of veterans.

But they expressed reservations about mandatory check-ups every two years for veterans already getting compensation.

"A lot of veterans would view these reviews as an attempt to take away their benefits," said Gerald Manar, deputy director of the VFW's national veterans service.

Researching for the commission, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommended case by case determinations of whether veterans need follow-up exams.

However, the benefits commission felt that required reevaluations for some types of disabilities, particularly mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, would ensure that those needing regular check-ups didn't slip through the cracks, said retired Lt. Gen. James Scott.

Scott, chairman of the commission, said, "It seems to me if you don't reevaluate, you won't know how the treatment is doing."

The commission also recommended basing benefits on a sliding scale to determine the degree to which different disabilities detract from a veteran's quality of life. The veterans groups said this was a worthy idea but would require more research to find a way to measure how much an amputation versus post-traumatic stress disorder would affect quality of life.

Several of the commission's recommendations stretch back to previous panels meeting more than 50 years ago. The Veterans Disabilities Benefits Commission report, released last October with 113 recommendations, should be sufficient to get started and set deadlines for action, leader of veterans groups said.

Thirty-five percent of disability ratings have not been updated since 1945, according to the Institute of Medicine.

"Despite the fact that the disability system was already outdated more than five decades ago there have been no fundamental reforms," Sen. Richard Burr R-N.C. said at the hearing. "It is a failure of a highest magnitude if we don't provide these heroes who have sacrificed so much for their country with the benefits and services they need and deserve."

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