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Military update: Options for easing VA compensation claims controversial

America’s population of living veterans fell by almost 5 million, or 17 percent, from 2000 to 2013.

So why did the number of veterans drawing disability compensation climb by 55 percent over that period?

And why has yearly Veterans Affairs disability payments tripled since 2000 to reach $60 billion in 2014?

The Congressional Budget Office explains why in a new report, and the primary reason is not found among veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That source of claims is significant but not yet near its peak.

A greater factor has been liberalized laws and policies on “service connected” ailments, particularly decisions to compensate Vietnam War veterans for common medical conditions of aging and lifestyle because of an “association” with possible exposure to herbicides used in that war.

For example, in 2000 only 38,000 veterans from all war eras were receiving disability compensation for diabetes. By last year, 320,000 veterans from the Vietnam War alone drew diabetes-related compensation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expanded its list of diseases presumed caused by Agent Orange to ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and certain types of leukemia in 2010.

By June of last year, that decision had led to VA processing 280,000 claims for the newly presumptive ailments and to making $4.5 billion in retroactive disability payments.

Another factor of growth in VA claims has been a weak labor market, CBO says, which encourages out-of-work or underemployed veterans to apply for disability compensation.

Current law allows them to do so at any age and as often as they like. Indeed, laws enacted in 2000 and 2008 required VA to strengthen the help given to veterans to apply for disability benefits and substantiate claims.

VA also increased outreach to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and eased PTSD diagnostic requirements.

All such efforts, CBO says, are aided by the Internet and its capability to relay information quickly, and by websites that offer information on benefits and programs and encourages veterans to submit claims online.

CBO prepared its report, Veterans’ Disability Compensation: Trends and Policy Options, at the request of the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine.

As with most CBO reports, it offers only “objective, impartial analysis” and options, not recommendations. But the options for easing the river of VA compensation claims are, as expected, controversial.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:

[email protected]

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