Time for an overhaul

Published 4:39 am Thursday, October 4, 2007

By Staff
They deserve it.
After a study that took 30 months, the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission is recommending veterans disability payments be increased immediately by up to 25 percent as part of a sweeping overhaul designed to compensate for a wounded warrior’s lost ‘‘quality of life.’’
The commission’s recommendation should become policy and be implemented as soon as possible. Our wounded veterans deserve no less — and probably deserve more.
The study provides the most comprehensive look, so far, at the ailing government benefits system that provides millions of injured veterans with about $30 billion a year in payments, according to a report by The Associated Press. The 13 members of the congressional commission, by analyzing the findings of reports that provided information about shortcomings and failings in the care of veterans, concluded in a 544-page report that the Veterans Affairs Department and Department of Defense fall drastically short in providing adequate mental health care and fair and timely disability payments to wounded warriors.
The commission’s conclusions come as no surprise to many wounded veterans, their families and others familiar with the matter. That’s the sad part. People who knew there were problems with the system and had the power to solve those problems failed, in many cases, to do so.
The wounded warriors didn’t fail to do their duty. They deserve to be cared for in a manner that meets their needs.
Veterans have a point. In many of their cases, the prevailing attitude seems to be one of finding a way to deny them benefits and assistance instead of finding a way to help them. That attitude must be changed.
The commission isn’t satisfied with just one recommendation. It’s recommending other measures be implemented. The commission has called for immediate extra payments to injured veterans, many of whom feel they lose out on benefits because of an overly narrow government focus on earnings, losses or other reasons, according to The Associated Press report. Such a move could offer veterans temporary assistance as Congress and President Bush’s administration consider suggestions from several groups that share the goal of repairing the existing system. Some critics of that system contend that system is broken.
Others believe it’s time for that system to be completely overhauled. Among them is retired Lt. Gen. James Terry Scott, chairman of the commission. Scott has said the Army may be working toward keeping veterans’ disability ratings low to keep from paying more benefits.
Expensive, cheap, difficult or easy, Congress must closely scrutinize each of the 113 recommendations, then put in place those that will provide the most help to veterans.
America’s wounded warriors have paid a price to keep freedom and security alive in this troubled world. This nation must be willing to pay the price to provide its wounded warriors — be they wounded in mind, body or both — the care they need to have the quality of life they deserve.
It won’t be easy to fix the problems. It never is when it comes to healing broken bodies and confused minds.
But as much as possible, those broken bodies deserve to be mended and those confused minds deserve clarity.