Disabled veterans were thrilled in 2007 when the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission asked Congress to enact an immediate “quality of life” increase to disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VDBC commissioners wanted an across-the-board special increase to benefit all veterans with service-connected health conditions and wanted it to be as large as 25 percent for the most severely disabled.
The commission argued that current disability pay compensates for average loss in lifetime earnings but fails to provide any added monetary award for diminished quality of life.
Quality of life “is addressed in a limited fashion” by Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) payable for loss of limbs or use of limbs, said the commission. But it called for development of a “systematic methodology” for evaluating and compensating for the impact of disability on quality of life. Meanwhile, they said Congress should allow an interim increase of up to 25 percent.
What happened to that idea?
It fell flat, said retired Lt. Gen. Terry Scott, a former Army Ranger who chaired the VDBC.
“The terms ‘across the board’ and ‘up to 25 percent’ were not well received anywhere outside the veterans community,” Scott explained during an interview Monday in Washington.
His own position on an across-the-board increase for diminished quality of life also has changed, Scott said.
That’s significant because he not only had chaired the VDBC but also now chairs the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation.
Scott’s fallback position to an across-the-board raise, which the advisory committee also seems to embrace, is to pay something extra to recognize loss in quality of life only for the most seriously disabled veterans. That could be done by expanding the SMC portion of VA disability pay or by adopting a similarly rigid model for compensating for “non-economic loss.”
The 11-member advisory committee is a lower-profile entity than the VDBC. It has met 20 times since fall of 2008 with responsibility both to advise and to pressure the VA secretary on steps, schedules and priorities for modernizing VA’s Schedule for Ratings Disabilities (VASRD).
VA claim adjudicators have used the VASRD for more than 60 years to set disability ratings, which in turn determine the size of monthly disability payments.
Scott applauded VA’s work so far to upgrade the VASRD including changes in the way traumatic brain injury and burn scars are rated. The master plan, he said, includes a schedule to review disability ratings across all 15 body systems.
“If they are able to execute that plan, I think it will aid veterans, present and future” and reduce the backlog of claims, Scott said.
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