DISABILITIES

By Daniel J. Vance

 

  If the past is any indication, the U.S. will experience a sharp rise in the number of persons with disabilities once war breaks out in the Persian Gulf. Casualties among military personnel are a guaranteed bi-product of every war.

  And when these newly disabled veterans return home, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) will likely be their advocate of choice on Capitol Hill. Chartered by Congress in 1932, DAV now has 1.2 million members, including Vietnam- (370,000), World War II- (350,000) and Gulf War-era (168,000) veterans.

  With war on the horizon, Washington D.C.-based DAV spokesman Thom Wilborn recently said to me, "One important legislative issue we have this year is for Congress to change the way VA healthcare is funded. Right now the funding is designated as 'discretionary.' This means the vote to fund it comes up every year and is subject to the will and whim of Congress. If Congress hasn't approved a VA spending bill by the beginning of a fiscal year, which is the case right now, then VA must spend at the previous year's level. We would like this to change. If Congress designated VA spending as 'mandatory,' then VA would be funded at the level required. Some veterans right now have been waiting months to see a VA doctor and some even longer for a specialist. This is not adequate healthcare."

  He continued, "Another issue is called 'concurrent receipt of military longevity retirement pay and disability compensation.' Right now when most military personnel retire after 20 or more years after suffering a disability while in the military, and if they elect to receive disability compensation, the amount of that compensation is deducted off their retirement pay. This formula is based on an old 1890s law. Military personnel are the only government workers under this law. All other government workers receive both disability pay and full retirement pay [without any deductions.]"

  (Currently, the U.S. Dept. of Defense is opposing 'concurrent receipt' because it believes the measure would cost too much—about $6 billion annually over 10 years.)

  As a nonprofit, DAV's support comes entirely from membership dues and donations—it receives no government aid. To serve its members, DAV has a nationwide transportation service to drive disabled veterans to VA facilities for medical treatment. Besides legislative advocacy, it helps members with disability claims. Learn more at www.dav.org.

  [Contact Mr. Vance at www.danieljvance.com. Copyright 2003 by Daniel J. Vance.]