Supporting Our Troops Yet Again

From the LATimes, another story about the Bush administration deciding to nickel-and-dime wounded veterans:

“Marine Cpl. James Dixon was wounded twice in Iraq — by a roadside bomb and a land mine. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion, a dislocated hip and hearing loss. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Army Sgt. Lori Meshell shattered a hip and crushed her back and knees while diving for cover during a mortar attack in Iraq. She has undergone a hip replacement and knee reconstruction and needs at least three more surgeries.

In each case, the Pentagon ruled that their disabilities were not combat-related.

In a little-noticed regulation change in March, the military’s definition of combat-related disabilities was narrowed, costing some injured veterans thousands of dollars in lost benefits — and triggering outrage from veterans’ advocacy groups.

The Pentagon said the change was consistent with Congress’ intent when it passed a “wounded warrior” law in January. Narrowing the combat-related definition was necessary to preserve the “special distinction for those who incur disabilities while participating in the risk of combat, in contrast with those injured otherwise,” William J. Carr, deputy undersecretary of Defense, wrote in a letter to the 1.3-million-member Disabled American Veterans.”

Because, of course, someone who fractures her hip while diving for cover in a mortar attack has not been disabled while “participating in the risk of combat”. Obviously. According to the new policy, “her wounds would be considered combat-related only if she had been struck by shrapnel.”

As noted above, the Pentagon is claiming that this change is justified by a law passed last January. And yet:

“Years ago, Congress adopted a detailed definition of combat-related disabilities. It included such criteria as hazardous service, conditions simulating war and disability caused by an “instrumentality of war.” Those criteria were not altered in the January legislation.

The Pentagon, in establishing an internal policy based on the legislation, in March unlawfully stripped those criteria from the legislation, the Disabled American Veterans said.

“We do not view this as an oversight,” [Kerry Baker of the DAV] testified before Congress in June. “We view this as an intentional effort to conserve monetary resources at the expense of disabled veterans.””

That is just wrong. Moreover, it’s also wrong to make disabled vets jump through hoops in order to get the benefits they’re entitled to. If you’ve been blown up by an IED, our government should do you the courtesy of allowing you to concentrate on healing your wounds and moving on, not on arguing with them about whether your disability was “combat-related.”

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