CONGRESSMEN JOE DONNELLY AND FRED UPTON INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO PROVIDE IMMEDIATE VA DISABILITY BENEFITS FOR OIF AND OEF VETERANS
South Bend - Today, Congressman Joe Donnelly visited the Veterans Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in South Bend to announce that he and Congressman Fred Upton introduced legislation that aims to simplify the process for new veterans as they transition out of the military and try to provide for their families.
"I am pleased to continue my close work with my friend and colleague Fred Upton to provide our nation's disabled veterans with the high quality and timely care and benefits they deserve," Donnelly said.
Currently, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans recently discharged from service with a Department of Defense (DoD)-documented disability still must prove to the Veterans Benefit Association (VBA) that his or her disability is service-connected in order to receive benefits. This process is lengthy and, in combination with disability claims from veterans of other conflicts, has resulted in a backlog of 600,000 pending claims and an average wait time of 6 months. That number is expected to increase exponentially as an estimated 44 percent of the 1.4 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan will need some form of disability relief.
"Right now, America's disabled veterans face a confusing and frustrating VA disability claims process," Donnelly said. "For new disabled war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, navigating the complex VA disability claims process and having to prove that their fresh injuries are service-connected truly does add insult to war injury."
Donnelly and Upton's legislation would make all new OIF and OEF veterans with a DoD-documented disability immediately eligible for VA benefits equal to a 30 percent disability rating upon the day they leave service. This means about $400 per month in disability pay for a single veteranmore if that veteran has a family to support.
"Until Congress and the VA get a handle on the claims backlog, we believe we should at least provide new war veterans with already documented disabilities temporary disability benefits until the VA makes a permanent determination on their claims," Donnelly said.
"We cannot afford to wait any longer to provide our sons and daughters returning from combat with the benefits they desperately deserve," said Upton. "It is imperative that we take the necessary steps to address the backlog our vets are enduringespecially when some of them cannot even afford to wait a few days to receive their benefits, let alone six months. Our veterans deserve better, and this common sense, innovative legislation ensures that disabled vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan receive an immediate benefit upon filing their disability claims. It is the least we can do for those who sacrificed so much for our country."
Further, under the bill, all OIF and OEF veterans diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by any health professional would also be eligible for these temporary benefits until the VA processes their claims.
"Improvement in protective equipment and medical care mean that more service members are surviving horrific combat," Donnelly said. "But, making it out alive is only the beginning of what will become a lifelong battle for the many diagnosed with TBI and PTSD. These afflictions are the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan yet the most difficult to prove. Given the devastating effects TBI and PTSD can have on an individual and his or her family, we've included a provision in our bill to provide temporary benefits to those diagnosed with TBI or PTSD by anycivilian or militaryhealth professional."