Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Veterans Claims: Costs of caring for wounded: Recent wars to rival Vietnam

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and detailing all disability payments to veterans of all wars, show that veterans leaving the military in recent years are filing for and receiving compensation for more injuries than did their fathers and grandfathers.

At the same time, McClatchy found, the VA is losing ground in efforts to provide fast, accurate disability decisions. And the agency has yet to get control of a problem that has vexed it for years: the wide variation in disability payments by state and region, even for veterans with the same ailments.

According to VA and Department of Defense information compiled by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, 2.2 million service members have deployed to one of the wars since Sept. 11, 2001; 942,000 have deployed two or more times.

Of those, 6,300 service members have died, and 46,000 have suffered nonfatal wounds in action. But more than 600,000 veterans have filed for VA disability benefits, and more than 700,000 have been treated in the VA's medical system.

Among the findings:

• Recent veterans are filing claims at a far higher rate than veterans from previous wars or generations. That could make the eventual payout for the VA far higher than for previous wars.

• The VA's disability payments are still wildly uneven, despite years of attempts to improve consistency. That means, for example, that a veteran who lives in Kentucky is likely to have a higher disability payment than one who lives in South Dakota, often for the same ailment.

• The speed at which the VA processes disability applications has gotten slower, and the percentage of claims with an error has worsened as well. In fiscal 2011, 16 percent of VA disability decisions contained an error, the VA's own review shows.

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