Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Post 9/11 Vets Deluge Va Seeking Disability

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Post 9/11 Vets Deluge Va Seeking Disability

Article excerpt

America's newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries that they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.

What's more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.

It's unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims -- the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD. Almost one- third have been granted disability so far.

Government officials and some veterans' advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can't find any. Aggressive outreach and advocacy efforts also have brought more veterans into the system, which must evaluate each claim to see if it is war-related. Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.

As the nation commemorates the more than 6,400 troops who died in post-9/11 wars, the problems of those who survived also draw attention. These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is mired in backlogged claims, but "our mission is to take care of whatever the population is," said Allison Hickey, the VA's undersecretary for benefits.

New veterans are different in many ways from those who fought before them.

More are from the Reserves and National Guard -- 28 percent of those filing disability claims -- rather than career military. …

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