Data Suggests Vast Costs Loom in Disability Claims
By SCOTT SHANE
Published: October 11, 2006
The number of veterans granted disability compensation, more than 100,000 to
date, suggests that taxpayers have only begun to pay the long-term financial
cost of the two conflicts. About 567,000 of the 1.5 million American troops
who have served so far have been discharged.
“The trend is ominous,” said Paul Sullivan, director of programs for
Veterans for America, an advocacy group, and a former V.A. analyst.
Mr. Sullivan said that if the current proportions held up over time, 400,000
returning service members could eventually apply for disability benefits
when they retired.
About 2.6 million veterans were receiving disability compensation as of
2005, according to testimony to Congress by the V.A. The largest group of
recipients is from the Vietnam era. Of the 1.1 million who served in the
Middle East during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, 291,740 have been granted
The documents on the current conflicts provide no details on the type of
disabilities claimed by veterans. Most were found to be 30 percent disabled
or less, and one in 10 recipients was found to be 100 percent disabled.
Payments run from a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000 a month
depending on the severity of the disability.
A separate V.A. health care report shows that the most common treatments
sought by recently discharged troops are for musculoskeletal disorders like
back pain, followed by mental disorders, notably post traumatic stress
disorder. About 30,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have sought treatment
for post traumatic stress, which afflicts soldiers who have been under fire
or in prolonged danger of attack.
A V.A. spokesman, Terry Jemison, said “service-related” disabilities could
include an amputation as the result of a bomb injury or a case of diabetes
or heart disease that was first diagnosed or found to get worse while in
uniform. Mr. Jemison said officials had no cost projections for disability
payments to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the
National Security Archive at George Washington University.
The documents show that 37 percent of active duty veterans have filed for
disability compensation, compared with 20 percent of those who served with
National Guard or Reserve units. Also, 18 percent of claims filed by Guard
and Reserve soldiers are denied, compared with 8 percent of those filed by
active duty troops.
The report offered no explanation for the differences, but veterans’
advocates said efforts to explain V.A. procedures might be better for those
leaving active duty than those offered to reservists.
“The Guard and reservists may be falling through the cracks at a higher
rate,” said Joseph A. Violante, national legislative director for Disabled
American Veterans. “The V.A. needs to study why there’s a difference.”
Mr. Violante, a Vietnam veteran, said young soldiers returning from war
often shrugged off their injuries and did not necessarily seek compensation
right away. “But as they get older,” he said, “and their injuries cause them
more problems, then they’re more likely to file.”
In recent years, disability compensation programs have seen a number of
changes that are likely to increase the filing of claims by veterans.
Congress told the V.A. last year to advertise the availability of
compensation to veterans in states where payments had been
disproportionately low, a program that the agency has predicted will attract
nearly 100,000 new applicants.