CEO, Aspirience Home Care
From my newsletter last week:
Since that day, Ngo has gotten health coverage through the VA. Earlier this month, the VA said it would pick up his leftover bills from the emergency room. The VA has been more generous than the Army all around. It rated Ngo as 100 percent disabled compared with the Army’s 10 percent rating. The VA gives him a monthly disability check, which helps with his finances; his head injury and post-traumatic stress disorder have prevented Ngo from holding on to even a simple job since he returned home. Ngo’s mother, Hong Wyberg, says the Army gives soldiers such as her son low disability ratings to save money. “I don’t fully think they were prepared for the length of time this war is going to last,” Wyberg says. “They had no idea of how many injuries or the type of injuries that were going to come out of this.”
Michael Parker retired from the Army in October, and he thinks Wyberg’s suspicion is correct. “The more I looked into it, I realized that this system does not have the soldier’s back at all,” says Parker. Parker was a lieutenant colonel when he retired last year. Today, he has a disabling condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Parker was able to get the Pentagon’s lifelong health coverage for himself and his family; he had been in the military long enough — for at least 20 years. But Parker saw that a lot of other soldiers weren’t as lucky, and it inspired him to become an advocate. “I started posting questions and concerns and opinions on various blogs,” he says, “and it just kind of mushroomed from there.”
Parker started digging through Pentagon data, and the numbers he found shocked him. He learned that the Pentagon is giving fewer veterans disability benefits today than it was before the Iraq war — despite the fact that thousands of soldiers are leaving the military with serious injuries. “It went from 102,000 and change in 2001… and now it’s down to 89,500,” says Parker. “It’s counterintuitive. Why are the number of disability retirees shrinking during wartime?”
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott heads a commission, set up by Congress, to study veterans’ disability benefits. At a Senate hearing last week, Scott said that his commission had compared the way the Pentagon and the VA rated the same soldiers. “The Department of Defense records were matched with VA records on 2.6 million veterans receiving disability compensation,” Scott said. “Those rated zero, 10 or 20 percent [disabled] by the Department of Defense were rated in the 30 to 100 percent range by VA more than half the time.”
In other words, troops often get small disability checks and no military health care when rated by the Pentagon’s disability boards. But when they go to a VA board — with the same injuries — they get much more. Scott said one reason is that the military’s ratings determine whether a person is fit for duty, whereas the VA looks at all conditions that create health problems for a veteran. So the VA ends up rating more disabilities per retired service member. But Scott said another reason may be that the Pentagon wants to keep down its costs. “It is also apparent that the Department of Defense has a strong incentive to rate less than 30 percent, so that only severance pay is awarded,” Scott said.
These numbers yielded some tough questions for Pentagon officials at recent Senate hearings. They conceded that the disability system doesn’t work as well as it should. They admitted it is too bureaucratic and too often adversarial. They said they would listen to suggestions for change. But change in the future will come too late for many soldiers.
It’s important to know, Aspirience Home Care makes home care simple for all.