Military Disability Cases Rising Steadily
> 10/11/2006 1:17:46 PM

In what will almost certainly prove to be a significant financial burden in coming years, military officials report a growing number of personnel filing disability claims upon returning from duty, according to data gathered under the Freedom of Information Act. Among active duty veterans, more than 37 percent have applied for compensation, and though physical injuries suffered in combat constitute the largest number if claims, 35 percent of applicants list mental health impairments as reasons for filing. Chief among these reported ailments is post-traumatic stress disorder, which largely affects soldiers with extensive experience in or near violent conflict.

The military denies an average of 8 percent of applications, and 100,000 soldiers returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan have already qualified, 30,000 of those for post traumatic stress alone. Compensation payments can run higher than $1000 a month and often continue for decades, which means that the overall cost of veterans' disability programs will not be going down anytime soon. 2.6 million veterans currently receive some form of disability, the majority of cases stemming from the Vietnam era. Officials from Veterans for America, a military advocacy group, describe the trends as "ominous," speculating that as many as 400,000 personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan could eventually receive benefits. Of the more than 1 million soldiers who served in the first Gulf War, almost 300,000 currently receive disability.

Though reservists are obviously less likely than their active duty counterparts to see direct action, a large number of their ranks (approximately one in five) also apply for benefits. The military is less likely to award payments to National Guard units and reservists, but their claims will contribute significantly to the financial committment in coming years. At the urging of congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs began advertising the possibility of compensation last year in areas where lower percentages of servicemen and women receive benefits, and more veterans will undoubtedly file due to this action. Our soldiers, many of whom continue to suffer the effects of their combat experience years after retirement, obviously deserve compensation for lost wages or declines in quality of life due to injuries received in battle, whether physical or psychological. But if disability claims continue to rise at current rates, the military may be required to make compromises in order to pay the growing sum.

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