Thursday, March 01, 2007

Support Our Troops--Support Our Vets?

I receive this bulletin twice a month from an organization that reports on all things pertaining to veterans and their special interests. Much of it is only useful for service retirees, but they also keep track of bureaucratic decisions and policies that affect all vets. They report, they don't judge. They document their information and give sources.

Given all the publicity recently to Walter Reed Med Ctr. and the poor conditions for outpatients, this bulletin may seem small potatoes. However, further on in the article they report delays of unconscionable proportions that are realities facing disabled vets.

Read the paragraphs below, and read some more from the bulletin and then decide how much the government and its attending bureaucracies are "Supporting Our Troops."

The troops fight for our country and then have to fight at home to get their benefits. I think that the treatment the soldiers receive from their government and even from the army in which they served shows the indifference, if not outright contempt, those organizations have for those that served.

Read the bulletin and decide:

"ARMY DISABILITY RATINGS: According to veterans' advocates, lawyers and services members the Army is deliberately shortchanging troops on their disability retirement ratings to hold down costs. In support of this the Inspector General has identified 87 problems in the system that need fixing. "These people are being systematically underrated," said Ron Smith, deputy general counsel for Disabled American Veterans. "It's a bureaucratic game to preserve the budget, and it's having an adverse affect on service members." The numbers of people approved for permanent or temporary disability retirement in the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have stayed relatively stable since 2001. But in the Army, while in the midst of a war, the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement has plunged by more than two-thirds, from 642 in 2001 to 209 in 2005, according to a GAO report last year. That decline has come even as the war in Iraq has intensified and the total number of soldiers wounded or injured there has soared above 15,000. (Emphasis mine)

"The Army denies there is any intentional effort to push wounded troops off the military rolls. But critics say many troops being evaluated for possible disability retirement accept the first rating they are offered during their first informal board. Dennis Brower, legal advisor for the Army's Physical Disability Agency, acknowledged as much, saying only 10% of soldiers request a formal board. If they were to request a formal board, and then appeal the decision of that board, they would receive higher ratings. The system is complicated, "unduly so" the Rand Corp. think tank said in a 2005 report, and the counselors who advise troops often have insufficient training or experience. Service members also assume that after months spent in a war zone, the military will look out for them, critics say. Those who try to navigate the process beyond their initial evaluation face long waits, lost paperwork and months or even years away from home as they try to complete the process.

"If they receive a rating of above 30%, they receive disability retirement pay, medical benefits, and commissary privileges. Those rated under 30% they receive severance pay and no benefits. Many eventually give up and take their chances with the VA, which may give a higher rating for the same disability."

I don't normally blog about things political, but this has got me rightly ticked off. I am a vet, and, thankfully don't have a service connected disability that I have to fight for. (If you don't count significant hearing loss in my right ear. I ran hundreds and hundreds of 7.62 rounds through my M-14. In the 60's, in training, the only folk who had hearing protection were the DIs and the range marshalls.)

I once wanted to work for the Veterans' Administration to try to help vets less fortunate than I. But now I see that if I had, I would be just another bureaucrat having to delay and deny benefits to keep my job.

BRB is Write (and weeps for our returning wounded; they faced one enemy and paid the price. Now they have to face friendly fire.)


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