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Discharged and dishonored:
Shortchanging America's veterans
CHRIS ADAMS and ALISON YOUNG
Jan 14, 2006
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The system stems from a time when war injuries were often less complex. Today's soldier faces mental illnesses unacknowledged two generations ago, as well as wounds that were often fatal in earlier wars.
Beyond that are tough fiscal realities. The Congressional Budget Office has already indicated that the VA could save significantly if it eliminated new payments for certain diseases not connected to military service. While most payments can be linked directly to service, veterans also can qualify merely if they're diagnosed soon after their military service.
The GAO offered one example: A Navy veteran was hospitalized with a heart condition three months after his induction. Although the disease had its inception in childhood, the veteran eventually received disability payments based on the VA's highest rating. In all, the VA pays nearly $1 billion a year for disabilities that the GAO says generally aren't directly linked to veterans' service in the military.
Many veterans' cases go bad even before they file claims.
Applying for disability benefits requires veterans to navigate a labyrinth of bureaucratic rules and unforgiving deadlines. It can require the skill of an investigator and the mind of a physician.
That's why national veterans groups have for decades provided free help. About 40 veterans service organizations, such as the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, are authorized to handle VA claims, as are many states.
But Knight Ridder found that the network of VA-accredited service officers is a patchwork of well-meaning helpers whose training and expertise vary widely. Contrary to its own regulations, the VA does little to ensure that veterans receive competent representation from veterans service organizations. Yet the agency prohibits vets from hiring their own attorneys until after their claims have been denied and they're generally years into the appeals process.
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