By Carl Prine
A bipartisan bill promises to speed disability payments to troops wounded in Afghanistan, but it must clear a Congress so divided that 96 percent of proposed legislation dies on Capitol Hill.
Inspired by chats with wounded troops at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Centre County, has proposed HR 6445, the Recovering Service Members Disability Benefits Act. It would exempt active-duty, Reserve and National Guard service members injured in a combat zone from the customary five-month waiting period for Social Security Disability Insurance payments.
This would help the most vulnerable veterans and their families -- those troops transitioning out of the military but too sick to work.
These payments, often shortened to "SSDI," typically augment benefits from the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs and are provided only to permanently disabled personnel. Social Security expedites claims for wounded troops, but Thompson's measure would end the waiting period for the disability payments.
"For those men and women who have sustained combat-related injuries, they deserve better," said Thompson, 53. "We need to collapse that five-month wait. The money they deserve already has been approved and the additional costs for this are minimal. I'm very optimistic that it can get through."
Thompson would like the lame-duck Senate to fold his measure into the $635 billion defense spending bill the House passed in May. It has not been enacted because of partisan election-year squabbling.
Thompson's bill is co-sponsored by Rep. David Loebsack, D-Iowa, and three House Republicans: Lycoming County's Tom Marino, North Carolina's Walter Jones and Florida's Allen West, a Tea Party favorite who also is a retired Army veteran of the war in Iraq.
"Our service members who have been wounded defending our country should not have to wait for benefits or face financial hardship. They should be able to focus on their recovery, not delays in their benefits," Loebsack said in a written statement.
The VFW supports Thompson's bill, which also garnered support from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the National Guard Association of the United States.
"Our American heroes have earned this," said Thompson. "What little cost there is, it will diminish in time as the war in Afghanistan winds down."