Injured veterans could be shortchanged in their government disability pay depending on where they live
WASHINGTON —Injured veterans could be shortchanged in their government disability pay depending on where they live because of wide disparities from state to state, an internal study concludes.
The 1 1/2-year investigation, conducted by the Institute for Defense Analysis, is the first to examine scientifically the reasons behind Veterans Affairs' uneven handling of veterans claims for disability compensation. It was launched by VA following reports in 2005 of wide differences in payments.
The 50-page report, made available to The Associated Press, found that average annual disability payments swung widely — from $7,556 in Ohio to $12,395 in New Mexico. Nationwide, the average pay was $8,890.
Illinois, which was the lowest in the nation in 2004 at $6,961, was the seventh-lowest at roughly $7,816.
"The process by which VA adjudicates claims has potential for producing persistent regional differences in rating results," said David Hunter, who compiled the study. "For certain claims, different raters could reasonably arrive at different results."
Since reports of disparities emerged in 2005, the VA has struggled to explain them…
It has largely blamed problems on demographic factors beyond its control; for instance, whether a particular state had more Vietnam veterans, who on average receive higher payments, or whether a veteran had legal help when making a claim.
But the study released to the AP found that roughly one-third of the problems could be blamed on poor VA standards and inadequate training.
As a result, disability raters in VA regional offices often had too much power and discretion to decide how much pay a veteran was entitled.
The report also faulted VA for not collecting data on certain types of claims, such as how many post-traumatic-stress-disorder cases are rejected. As a result, it was impossible to determine whether part of the disparity might be due to a VA office inappropriately rejecting a high number of claims for PTSD, a signature injury of the Iraq war.
Some soldiers and veterans groups have charged that Army disability review boards, which are under the Pentagon's purview, unfairly reject PTSD claims to avoid paying disability pay.
Among the findings:
PTSD claims generate among the highest disability pay, averaging $20,000 each year to more than 200,000 veterans. While the VA staff expected PTSD claims would be more subjective from state to state, their ratings were actually more stable compared with other injuries and illnesses, such as cardiovascular problems.
Veterans who receive legal help or aid from advocacy groups receive on average $11,162, compared with $4,728 for those who go it alone. Currently about two-thirds of veterans get such advocacy help; the highest representation is in North Dakota (81.9 percent), while the lowest is in Maryland (44.8 percent).
Vietnam vets received annual awards of $11,670, compared with $7,410 for those from other wars. The lowest pay was given to Gulf War vets — $6,506.
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