Surge in disabled vets to cost
By Jennifer C. Kerr, The Associated Press
Despite the decline in total vets — as servicemembers from World War II and
Worse wounds. More disabilities. More vets aware of the benefits and quicker to file for them.
Also, ironically, advanced medical care. Troops come home with devastating injuries that might well have killed them in earlier wars.
Time is also a factor when it comes to disability compensation costs. Payments tend to go up as veterans age, and an increasing number of soldiers from the Vietnam War will be getting bigger payments as they get older and are less able to work around their disabilities.
The number of disabled veterans has jumped by 25% since 2001 — to 2.9 million — and the cause really is no mystery.
"This is a cost of war," says Steve Smithson, a deputy director at the American Legion. "We're still producing veterans. We've been in a war in
VA and Census Bureau figures show the previous six-year period, before hostilities in
Today's veterans — disabled or not — number nearly 24 million. That population is projected by the VA to fall under 15 million by 2033, mostly because of dying World War II and Korean War vets. But costs are expected to rise.
Inflation accounts for a big chunk of the increase. But even when the VA factors out inflation, the compensation for disabled veterans would still grow from $29 billion to $33 billion in today's dollars — a more than 10% increase. And the department acknowledges the estimate could rise by 30%.
VA officials were not eager to talk about reasons for the increases. They declined several requests for interviews. In a written response to a handful of questions, the agency noted a few factors at play in the rising costs, such as the aging veterans population, an increase in the number of disabilities claimed and the severity of injuries sustained.
Outside experts provided more insight.
The American Legion's Smithson says the
Smithson says today's veterans also are filing claims for more disabilities.
"People are more aware of the benefits they are able to file for (because of) better outreach," Smithson said. "It's not like the WWII generation and Korean war generation where they weren't aware of what they could file for, and they were also reluctant to file if they didn't think they needed it."
"It's hard, you go through certain periods of remorse," said Bain. "I am never going to be the man I once was."
Bain suffers from tinnitus, post-traumatic stress disorder and serious injuries to his arms. He receives a check each month for $2,618 that helps the former Army staff sergeant pay the mortgage, food and clothing costs for his family of five in
Bain is one of about 755,000 veterans of the
Another factor driving up costs and the overall number of disabled veterans is
"You see an awful lot of
Conditions, such as a bad back or knee, can worsen with age and draw higher payments. A big concern for
Veterans who are approved for disability receive monthly checks for injuries or illnesses sustained or aggravated while on active duty. Ratings are scaled from 0 to 100% in 10% increments. A rating of 10%, for example, is given to tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, which is increasingly common for troops returning from
Former Army Sgt. Michelle Saunders was rated at 70% by the VA after being shot at during a 2004 convoy mission in
"It's turned me from a really alive, pretty happy person into somebody who is numb. I don't know how to feel anymore," she said.
Saunders gets a disability check each month from the VA for just under $800.
Annual benefits run from $1,404 for a veteran rated at 10% to about $30,324 for those at 100%. Severe disabilities, such as the loss of a limb, draw additional compensation.