"Lawmakers consider why Ohio's disabled vets are paid less than peers"
Sunday, April 13, 2008
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CLEVELAND Ohio ranked second to last in compensation for disabled veterans, and federal lawmakers are looking at why cases in other states collect thousands of dollars more. More than 85,000 veterans in Ohio receive disability payments and they routinely trail their peers from other states, according to the U.S. Department, of Veterans Affairs survey from 2006. Only Indiana's disabled veterans earned less. "The veterans living in Ohio sacrificed as much as veterans living elsewhere," said U.S. Rep. Zack Space, a Dover Democrat who is pushing for the VA to have a national standard for payments. "There is no reason that a veteran here should receive less than veterans in other states." MUCH LESS But veterans in Ohio receive as much as $4,800 less than those in New Mexico. Veterans in Oklahoma receive $4,185 more than their Ohio peers, and those in West Virginia earn $3,857 more. Space and his colleagues on the U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs are looking into the disparity. Part of the reason for the gap is that each state's veterans' system sets its own standards for disability. For instance, a soldier in one state might be classified as only partially disabled and thus eligible for small payments. The same veteran could be seen as a more serious case in another state and eligible for greater payment. "There should be a standard rate for all veterans across the U.S.," said 54-year-old Frank Anderson, an East Cleveland Army veteran who collects 100 percent disability from an automobile accident. Space's bill would instruct the VA to watch over the system and evaluate how states rate disabilities. EVERY ONE IS DIFFERENT Lakewood Vietnam vet Richard Healy said he doubts legislation could solve the disparity. "Every one of us is different," said Healy, a 61-year-old resident who helps Disabled American Veterans members file their forms. "If a doctor, for instance, says a veteran is minimally disabled for post-traumatic stress disorder, what does 'minimally' mean? Interpretation is a big factor." Army veteran Larry Scott, who runs the Web site vawatchdog.org, said the VA lacks a meaningful training program for those making those decisions. "In theory, there should be one huge office handling all claims for all vets. That's physically impossible. It'll never be done," he said. "So what you have is kind of like McDonald's — technically, all the restaurants have the same recipe, but you'll still get disparities in various parts of the country." VA spokesman Steven Westerfeld said the department has started training workers who decide each veteran's level of disability. He also said the VA is considering consolidating the grading system.