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US Veteran Benefit System Needs Overhauling

An expert panel commissioned by the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission calls for an overhaul of the U.S. government's system for rating the severity of military veterans' disabilities to set payment levels.

The rating schedule is the same system used by the Defense Department to rate service members before they leave the military to determine how they will be compensated for their injuries or diseases. The system was set up decades ago and needs urgent upgrading.

"With troops being injured nearly every day, the VA's system for evaluating and rating former service members' disabilities should be as up to date as possible," said Lonnie R. Bristow, former president of the American Medical Association.

"Right now, the rating schedule is out of sync with modern medicine and modern concepts of disability," said Bristow, chairman of the IOM committee that looked at the issue. Its a system originally designed in 1945 and it hasnt kept pace with modern changes in medicine and in our understanding of disability.

The size of monthly payments to U.S. veterans who sustained disabilities during military service depends on their VA disability ratings. A veteran without dependents who receives a rating of 10 percent would receive $115 a month tax free. A rating of 100 percent, meaning an inability to work at all, would entitle the veteran to $2,471 a month.

The VA needs to thoroughly update the system starting with conditions that have not been reviewed in the past decade, with an eye toward dumping outdated conditions and introducing modern thinking on conditions like the signature wound of the Iraq war- traumatic brain injury, diabetes and hearing loss, the panel said. It called for compensation packages to pay new attention to the effects of injuries on everyday functioning and quality of life.

The panel was of the opinion that every veteran should have a thorough assessment of all medical,
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