02.28.08

Burr Introduces Veterans Disability Benefits Reform

Brings long overdue modernizations to veterans’ disability system

U.S. Senator Richard Burr, the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs introduced legislation today that would simplify and modernize the veterans' disability system at the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The "America's Wounded Warriors Act" would require VA to replace the current outdated VA rating schedule with a new schedule that takes into account both average loss of earning capacity and loss of quality of life. It would also create "transition" payments to help medically discharged veterans, so they can focus on treatment, rehabilitation, and getting back into the workforce. The bill would simplify the claims process by ending the duplicative system that requires all injured veterans to get rated by both VA and the Department of Defense. These updates provide common sense solutions for today's veterans living in the modern world.

"Veterans deserve the best. They deserve a disability system that is modern, simple, and available to older veterans and future veterans. Right now, veterans have a confusing, outdated process to get their disability benefits," Burr said. "We cannot put this off for another 50 years. Our veterans deserve a system that is simple, up-to-date, and open to all."

The legislation would establish a new disability retirement system for servicemembers deemed unfit for service. It would pay a lifetime annuity based on rank and years of service, regardless of the level of severity of the servicemember's disabilities. Veterans would receive the entire Department of Defense annuity and any VA disability benefits, ending the confusing practice of offsetting these payments now. It would also create a bright-line rule on what benefits a medically discharged servicemember would receive, regardless of what branch of the military he or she was in.

Lifetime eligibility for health and dental coverage under TRICARE will be determined after Congressional consideration of a Department of Defense study. All other existing retirement benefits, such as commissary and exchange privileges, would be extended to all who retire under the new system.

Modernization of the VA disability system is the second component to this legislation. It directs the VA to conduct several studies in relation to a new modernized disability system and report its findings to Congress. Studies include determining the appropriate amounts of compensation under a new, modern disability rating schedule. Additional studies include determining the appropriate amount and duration of transition payments to be paid to servicemembers retired due to disability, who are participating in intensive programs of rehabilitation or who are within three months of medical retirement from active duty. Additionally, the legislation directs VA to submit a proposal to Congress detailing the new rating schedule and transition payment rate structure and the entire proposal would be subject to an up-or-down vote by Congress. The new system would be open to all veterans. Recipients of compensation under the old system would have their disability ratings grandfathered in unless they submit a claim under the new system.