VA Disability is Often Just Another Welfare Program

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– 23 November 2015 –

Janus:

Janus-smallThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, commonly known as the “V.A.”, is having difficulty with its enormous number of disability claims, many of which are chronic appeals for greater benefits.  Veterans, in fact, are instructed to continue to appeal over and over because it works. The V.A. is a government bureaucracy and for various reasons, appealing over and over has literally paid off countless times. Via Veterans Today and the L.A. Times:

The appeals system does not have enough staff to handle the record number of veterans — from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Vietnam — filing for disability payments over the last decade, then appealing when all or part of their claims are denied.

But experts point to a more fundamental problem. Unlike U.S. civil courts, the appeals system has no mechanism to prevent endless challenges. Veterans can keep their claims alive either by appealing or by restarting the process from scratch by submitting new evidence: service records, medical reports or witness statements.

They have everything to gain and little to lose by continuing to fight.

“There’s a gold ring and there’s no requirement to get in line,” said Dr. Edward Zech, a thoracic surgeon and former Navy captain who serves as the medical advisor to the Board of Veteran Appeals in Washington.

“It is intuitively obvious that there will be a backlog,” Zech said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re never going to catch up.”

Any injury or disease that can be traced back to the time of active duty — whether it occurred in combat or training or on vacation — is eligible for disability pay, with no statute of limitations on when a veteran can apply. The VA processed 1.3 million initial claims last year, a record.

Yes, the VA sucks in many ways. I’m not out to defend them.

But frankly too many veterans are getting too many benefits for supposed disabilities that either don’t really disable them or were not really inflicted in the line of duty. The VA disability program is more often than not just another welfare program.

I’m a veteran myself having discharged from the Navy in 2005. I could have requested a VA review of a knee injury that still frankly troubles me sometimes to this day, but I received it while horsing around on deployment, not in the line of duty, and the injury hasn’t impacted my ability to work. I chose to not seek the 10% or 20% disability that the VA would have likely granted.

I work with several former vets who discharged over the past fifteen years, and with one other exception they all claim some level of VA-recognized disability. Half of them don’t receive payments, but any level of disability gains them advantages such as discounts in state taxes and in-state college tuition for their children. They also get a preference when applying for government jobs.

Some of the half who do receive payments were granted them for questionable reasons. In one case, a guy crashed his car on his way to work and claims to suffer from migraine headaches since that time, but he is otherwise capable of working. (In fact, the offer of free lunch seems to clear his migraines instantaneously.) Does this warrant a perpetual $1300 dollar a month payment for his so-called 60% disability?  To top it off, a few years ago he was granted an increase in percentage of disability that brought a $50,000 lump sum in back payments, which he squandered on a new truck and bass boat. The worst case of waste is a former sailor who served in the Navy for two years, never had sea time, and was diagnosed with sleep apnea while on active duty. He is considered 80% disabled and gets a check for about $1900 per month.  He claims to be a conservative yet he shrugs, chuckling, “Hey! If they’re willing to pay it, I’m willing to take it!”  Most of them consider their disability status to be a personal entitlement for their service.

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Occasional and non-debilitating migraine headaches connected years after the fact to a car crash on the way to work. The VA considered these headaches worth $1,200 per month and a lump sum, tax-free payout of $50,000 in back pay. Is this really necessary?

The public, of course, in their almost mindless reverence for “our heroes” who serve and “give us our freedoms”, will generally say that our service men and women deserve every benefit possible. But frankly, if the public had actually served with most of these vets, they wouldn’t regard them with such awe.

V.A. disability status should only be granted if the injuries were received in the line of duty, if the injuries cause a material loss of the veteran’s ability to work in the civilian world, and if the injuries are physical in nature.  Nobody should receive perpetual payments for psychological trauma; if the trauma is so severe, such vets should be committed, not paid off. It is only right that the V.A. provide free treatments or counseling for any lesser service-related disabilities, but the monthly payouts are too generous.  The current system is insane and unsustainable.

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