Senate working on improved insurance plan for seriously injured troops
April 21, 2005
WASHINGTON — Troops would pay about $1 a month and receive up to $100,000 if they are seriously wounded under a new insurance plan proposed by Senate officials this week.
The insurance, based on the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance program, would serve as supplemental income and would not affect any current disability benefits. Injuries such as loss of sight or loss of a limb would be compensated between $25,000 and $100,000, designed to help with the resulting financial strain.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Larry Craig, R-Idaho, introduced the measure and called it an important tool for wounded troops and their families.
“Family members must often pay travel and lodging expenses for extended periods of time, in addition to having to leave or quit work, in order to spend as much time as possible with an injured son or daughter,” he said.
Veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project, which focuses on helping troops injured in conflicts overseas, helped draft the legislation to fill financial gaps their members have experienced. On Tuesday, they implored Congress to approve the measure quickly.
“The financial stress [following an injury] often outweighs the physical stress,” said retired Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, who lost his right leg to an IED in July 2003.
“Having to worry about mortgages at home, whether or not mom and dad have to take off work to visit, that isn’t what a soldier should be worrying about when he’s trying to walk on a prosthetic leg.”
Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun, who lost both legs in a September 2003 RPG attack in Iraq, said his wife quit work to be beside him for his eight months of recovery. Even with family and friends helping, Calhoun said the financial problems made his recovery more difficult.
“This [proposal] is giving young soldiers a chance to look ahead and be responsible,” he said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense both backed the measure, as did a number of military support organizations. Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., introduced similar legislation in the House this week, and Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee also offered their support for the measure.
Senate officials said the new insurance would cost about $10 million annually. Another proposal under discussion would make the insurance retroactive to 2001, and could cost up to $100 million initially.
Craig said he would attempt to attach the proposal as an amendment to the $80.7 billion emergency supplemental budget currently under consideration by the Senate. That measure is expected to be approved by the end of the week.