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Archive for Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dole says Congress needs to act for wounded veterans

May 24, 2008

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— Former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole on Friday urged Congress to expand disability benefits for wounded veterans, but said lawmakers are not likely to act in the face of opposition from veterans groups.

Dole's comments came in a speech to the National Press Club where he described some of the changes since a presidential commission last year made dozens of recommendations for improving the treatment of wounded soldiers.

One of the more controversial recommendations of the commission, on which Dole served as co-chairman, was that disability payments should be expanded to include loss in quality of life. Under the current system, veterans are compensated for lost earning capacity.

Most veterans organizations have opposed the quality of life payments because it would mean today's veterans get higher benefits than those from past conflicts. Dole, who was gravely wounded during World War II, said the new benefit seems fair given what is known today about the impact of a grave injury on daily life.

"I don't think my father would care if I got $100 a month more than he did," Dole said.

But Dole said the proposal is "going nowhere" if veterans groups don't sign off.

The panel headed by Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala was one of several commissioned following news accounts of shoddy conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and bureaucratic obstacles in the military and Department of Veterans Affairs disability systems.

Dole praised the military for quickly adopting some of the commission's other proposals, such as making sure the most seriously injured soldiers are assigned one person to oversee the entire continuum of care. More the 80 service members are now enrolled in the program and it will be expended over the next six months to include wounded veterans already in the system.

Another recommendation was to restructure the disability evaluation process so that only one physical exam is needed instead of the dual evaluation now required by the Defense Department and the VA.

The single evaluation plan is now in a pilot program and Dole said results show it has cut the evaluation time in half to 180 days.

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