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04-25-2007, 01:15
Pentagon May be Shorting Troop Benefits

Associated Press | April 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - An injured Soldier's disability should be determined by Veterans Affairs officials - and not the Pentagon - because the Army might be shortchanging troops, a presidential commission was told on Monday.

At a public meeting, the nine-member commission on veterans care chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala delved into ways to cut down on paperwork and problems in the disability ratings system.

Under the current system, each of the armed services assign ratings to service members when they become injured. The ratings determine whether the service member is discharged from active service and if so, the amount of disability benefits to which he or she is entitled. The VA operates a separate system to determine benefits for retired veterans.

Critics say the Army rates its injured Soldiers at a lower level of disability compared with the other armed services and the VA so it can save on the costs of disability payments.

Alert: Tell your public officials how you feel about this issue.

Veterans groups urged the commission to make a change so injured Soldiers aren't underpaid disability benefits.

Such a proposal would be a major shift in how disability benefits are administered, with both critics and supporters acknowledging it would likely add significantly to costs since the VA takes into account all the disabilities a Soldier has - not just one.

"We want to add our voice to others deeply disturbed by concerns of lowballing in Army disability ratings," said Robert Norton, deputy director for the Military Officers Association of America. "The ratings gaps are unacceptable."

In recent weeks, a separate review group found consistently lower disability ratings by the Army and suggested it might be because officials didn't want to pay benefits. The Army says it is perplexed by the finding but would investigate.

Bradley Mayes, director of compensation and pension service at the VA, told the commission that shifting the ratings work to the VA could be done. But he cautioned that the Pentagon would still need to be involved in making judgments on whether an active service member was fit for duty, as well as his level of military and severance pay for service. As a result, changing the current system could add to the level of bureaucracy...

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