Disabled Iraq Vets Shortchanged, Already

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On Saturday the Army announced that its Inspector Generals Office has found 87 problems with the service’s medical retirement system, including inconsistent training for counselors, inadequate record keeping and a failure to follow Defense Department policy. The announcement came after a yearlong probe where the IG’s office talked with 650 soldiers and employees at 32 posts around the world.

Also this weekend we hear, via Army Times, that the Army is holding back disability retirement ratings to cut costs.

“These people are being systematically underrated,” said Ron Smith, deputy general counsel for Disabled American Veterans. “It’s a bureaucratic game to preserve the budget, and it’s having an adverse affect on service members.”

Turns out that the number of approvals for disability retirement have remained steady for the other branches—Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force—since 2001 but in the Army, where we are seeing the majority of casualties and the bulk of our 23,000 injured, “the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement has plunged by more than two-thirds, from 642 in 2001 to 209 in 2005, according to a GAO report from last year.

The Army Times also points out that:

While the number of soldiers placed on permanent disability retirement has declined in the past five years, the number placed on temporary disability retirement — with medical conditions that officials rule might improve so they can return to work over time or worsen to the point that they must be permanently retired — has increased more than fourfold, from 165 in 2001 to 837 in 2005.

Compared to the overall size of the defense budget, disability retirement costs are relatively small, compared to what we are spending in theater. In 2004, the military paid more than $1.2 billion in permanent and temporary disability benefits to 90,000 people, the GAO said.

More on the hits our men and women in uniform are taking in Iraq, and everything else you might want to know about the Iraq War, in our Iraq 101 guide, here, and on newsstands later this week.

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