In the history of mankind, no individual has done more for the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier, marine, airman or sailor. Unfortunately, in protecting these values throughout the world, service members sustain injuries. Even more unfortunately, many service members are not aware they are entitled to compensation for their injuries.
Veterans’ disability compensation for a number of reasons – most of them political – is widely misunderstood. It is not limited to incapacitating wartime injuries. Statistically, most service members are injured while performing ordinary tasks in support of others. As most vets understand, the significant portion of a military force is actually engaged in support activities, not direct combat operations. Additionally, the law recognizes a veteran who served and was injured in peacetime is as injured as one who was injured in combat. After all, it is often the peacetime soldier that protects the nation from the outbreak of war and the need for the combat soldier.
The range of disability compensation is very broad. The medical conditions which trigger entitlement range from simple hearing loss (often diagnosed a quarter of a century or more after the exposure to loud noises in service), to the partial loss of use of an arm or a leg, diabetes, mental conditions (including depression and posttraumatic stress disorder – often diagnosed years afterwards), even to drug and nicotine dependencies secondarily caused by a recognized medical condition. There are hundreds, if not thousands of medical conditions recognized as being caused by military service.
The administrative process by which a vet claims disability compensation must be experienced to be believed. It is a multi-tiered system divided into geographic regions with a handful of different decision-making levels. After years of debate, last year Congress recognized the obvious need for legal representation sooner than later in the administrative process. It instituted reform legislation which now allows a veteran to retain legal counsel far earlier in the claims process. Since represented veterans are significantly more successful, there has been opposition in some political camps. However, as new vets flood into the system, and the system is further strained, the veterans’ need for legal assistance in the claims process becomes obvious.
The words of General Washington best answer those who question the need of taking care of the ordinary service man, “ The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.” If nothing else, it simply is good business.