Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott, chair of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission, testified during a joint hearing of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees on Thursday that the Army system for evaluating disabilities is unmanageable and inconsistent, the AP/Arizona Daily Star reports. The commission was created in 2004 to examine how to improve the benefits system. In its review, the commission found that the Army is less likely than other military groups to assign a disability rating of 30% or more, the cutoff for a person to receive lifetime retirement payments and health care. Scott said that the Pentagon “has strong incentive to assign ratings less than 30%” so that the military can avoid paying disability benefits. Scott added, “It is apparent that service members are not well-served.” Army officials refuted the allegations.
In related news, some lawmakers are expressing concern that President Bush’s nominee for VA undersecretary for health, Michael Kussman, knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since 2004 but failed to act (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 4/13). The Washington Post in February published a two-part series that examined conditions at the military hospital. One article profiled the state of Building 18, which had mold, cockroaches and stained carpets, among other issues. The series also examined the process by which injured soldiers seek disability compensation (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 4/2). In 2004, Kussman was co-chair of a commission designed to improve care for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. That commission issued a report finding that wounded troops were “frustrated, confused, sometimes angry about their experiences.” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, “The warning lights were flashing at Walter Reed years ago, but the Bush administration chose to ignore the problem and our injured service members paid the price.” Murray added, “It’s troubling that that long ago there was a report somewhere that these issues were festering over there.” Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) recently sent a letter to Bush expressing concern about Kussman’s nomination as permanent undersecretary for health. In his letter, Obama also asked that the president direct VA Secretary Jim Nicholson to release documents related to the 2004 work of Kussman’s commission (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 4/13).
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