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Disabled US Troops Shafted

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    Few injured, ill troops get disability pay they requested LARRY MARGASAK Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2004
      Few injured, ill troops get disability pay they requested

      Associated Press

      WASHINGTON - The military's system for compensating soldiers who
      become sick, injured or wounded can be as unforgiving as the
      battlefield: Fewer than one in 10 applicants receives the long-term
      disability payments they request.

      Nearly one-third of injured National Guard and Reserve veterans
      returning from the Iraqi and Afghan wars are being forced to wait
      more than four months to learn if they will even be compensated. That
      is a long time for soldiers who might not have other sources of

      The Army knows that troops are unhappy. But military officials say
      soldiers do not understand that their disability system measures
      fitness for duty, not the degree of one's sacrifice.

      Most soldiers applying for disability pay - 56 percent in the Army's
      case - are leaving the military with a one-time, lump sum payment
      that some say is inadequate.

      Lavoda Anderson, of Ninety Six, S.C., said she had a life-altering
      injury to her back while under fire in Iraq last year. In constant
      pain, she was jolted anew when the Army calculated her compensation
      for medical retirement at $13,400.

      "I feel I was treated very unfairly," said Anderson, who did not
      return to her prewar job as a dialysis technician and is raising her
      4-year-old daughter. "I didn't get adequate care. I feel like I'm
      useless most of the time."

      The military's disability system is like workers' compensation and
      long-term disability in the private sector. It pays people when they
      have illnesses and injuries that are job-related.

      The military, however, looks at a much narrower set of circumstances
      than insurers or the Department of Veterans Affairs. It only
      evaluates ailments that make a soldier unfit for duty in his or her
      specialty. For example, can an infantryman still run?

      The more generous VA compensation system considers all service-
      connected medical conditions.

      Soldiers who receive disability compensation from the military also
      can apply to the VA for disability pay. The military compensation is
      needed, however, to tide a soldier over while waiting for the VA. The
      department recently was averaging 171 days to make initial disability

      When the VA's disability compensation kicks in, it usually replaces
      military pay. Recipients cannot benefit from both systems at the same

      In the military system, the Army says, many soldiers misunderstand
      that pain by itself won't win them compensation.

      "You can't be retired on pain claims alone," said Dennis Brower,
      legal adviser to the Army Disability Agency. "Pain is unmeasurable.
      It's subjective."

      The Army does not keep statistics on the dollar amounts of disability
      payouts because they are based on a formula that includes a
      percentage assigned to each soldier's disability. But it does keep
      records on how many soldiers applying for long-term disability
      receive compensation.

      The majority, 56.1 percent, were given a one-time lump sum payment in
      2003. Seventeen percent received nothing at all because they either
      were declared fit for duty or determined to suffer injuries unrelated
      to their service or due to negligence.

      Another 17.1 percent received temporary disability payments that can
      be reviewed within five years. And just 9.8 percent won long-term
      disability pay that lasts for life.

      Jesus Oliveras, a chief warrant officer in an Augusta, Ga., reserve
      unit, was among those ordered back to duty without compensation.

      Oliveras said doctors wrote on his records that he had a hearing
      loss. He contends they gave little recognition to his real problems:
      debilitating back and shoulder injuries. Despite those injuries, the
      maintenance technician volunteered for service in Iraq.

      "At times I felt lousy, as a second-class citizen, especially coming
      from a war zone," Oliveras said. "They sent us to fight an enemy and
      when we returned, we had to fight another enemy - us."

      Oliveras said he accepted the fit-for-duty ruling because he is
      eligible for regular military retirement in three years.

      Brower, the lawyer for the Army disability agency, said, "You can't
      give higher disability ratings to soldiers who you feel emotionally
      deserve it. It would be nice to give every soldier 100 percent
      (disability), but as a taxpayer, you might not like that."

      Soldiers, particularly National Guard and Reserve members, also
      complain about long delays in medical diagnosis and treatment before
      they can receive a determination of disability.

      Col. Michael Deaton of the Army surgeon general's office said that as
      of late June, 32 percent of the activated Guard and Reserve members
      were in a medical holdover status more than 120 days. That compares
      with 41 percent in November.

      A program that allows soldiers to be treated near where they live has
      helped to reduce waiting times for medical care, he said.

      Spc. John Ramsey, a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Fla., had
      medical bills in the thousands of dollars and was dogged by
      creditors. Meanwhile, the state and federal governments fought over
      responsibility for his shoulder injuries suffered in Iraq.

      "My wife and I and two kids were put through hell because of this,"
      Ramsey said.

      Sgt. John Beard of Jacksonville, Fla., who returned from Iraq with
      shrapnel wounds in his back, legs and face, said he painfully waited
      in long lines for processing. On one occasion, confronting an
      irritable soldier handling pay records, Beard said, "I snatched my
      orders out of his hands and left."

      Staff Sgt. Dwayne Fitzpatrick of Orlando, Fla., won his appeal of an
      initial offer of a one-time, $23,000 severance payment. He qualified
      instead for a disability payment of $1,300 a month.

      "They dangle some money in your face, so many soldiers will take it
      and run," he said. "They low-ball everybody. I'm looking at the long

      ON THE NET

      Army Disability Agency

      Army Medical Command http://www.armymedicine.army.mil/default2.htm.



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