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A 21st Century System for Evaluating Veterans for Disability Benefits
try’s feeling of indebtedness to veterans and their families who sacrifice on behalf of our nation.
It is impossible to undertake any responsible assessment of a veterans assistance program without starting here—with an understanding and acknowledgment that these programs are but one way (and, sometimes, an inadequate way) that a “grateful nation” attempts to repay its indebtedness to those who serve in the military. Any judgment about how these programs perform has to be made through this lens. That is why any comparisons between the veterans disability compensation program and similar disability assistance programs (such as Social Security Disability Insurance, workers’ compensation, or private disability retirement programs) are bound to fall short. The standard is just not the same.
Of course, this does not mean that the veterans disability compensation program is perfect or that it should not be held to high standards of performance. Careful and critical assessment of program performance is essential, but it has to be done within the context of the program’s unique circumstances.
The following is how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the government agency responsible for veterans programs, expresses the unique circumstances under which a “grateful nation” provides for its veterans (VA, 2006):
For 230 years, Americans in uniform have set aside their personal aspirations and safety to procure and protect the freedoms established by the Founders of our great nation. Through their service, and, all too often, through their sacrifices, these brave men and women have earned the gratitude and respect of the entire nation.
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln affirmed our nation’s commitment “… to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” His eloquent words endured from his century to ours and serve today as the motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal agency responsible for honoring our debt of gratitude to America’s patriots.
P.L. No. 108-136 (the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004) established the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission to “carry out a study of the benefits under the laws of the United States that are provided to compensate and assist veterans and their survivors for disabilities and deaths attributable to military service.” The law requires the commission to make recommendations to the president and to Congress about (1) the appropriateness of such benefits under the laws in effect on the date of the enactment of the act, (2) the appropriateness of the level of such benefits,