April 20, 2007
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR
 | 

CHAIR OF VETERANS DISABILITY BENEFITS COMMISSION,
LT. GEN. JAMES TERRY SCOTT,
ADDRESSES DISPARITIES IN DISABLED VETERANS’ BENEFITS
ON NPR NEWS ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
TODAY, FRIDAY, APRIL 20

TRANSCRIPT BELOW; AUDIO TO BE AVAILABLE AT WWW.NPR.ORG



April 20, 2007; Washington, D.C. – Retired Army Lieutenant General James Terry Scott, chairman of the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission, tells NPR’s Robert Siegel his recommendation for resolving inconsistent disability ratings given to veterans by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, in an interview airing today on NPR News All Things Considered. “I’m speaking today for myself and not for the commission or the other commissioners. What I think would best serve our service members, and for that matter, the services in the VA, is for the DOD to make an assessment of fitness or unfitness for duty, and the service member then passes immediately to the VA for evaluation of disability or disabilities. And that should cut out the wide variation amongst the services and between DOD and VA.”

· When asked whether the DOD has an incentive to give injured veterans a lower disability rating, and therefore pay lower medical benefits, Lt. Gen. Scott said: “Well I don’t think that that has ever been articulated. There is a very widespread perception in the veterans community and the veteran service organization community that DOD does, in fact, take that into consideration. Obviously there is no evidence of that, and I would prefer to think that it’s just a matter of perception.”

· When asked to explain the difference between receiving a 30 percent disability rating, and receiving a lower rating, Lt. Gen. Scott said: “Well, the primary difference is the family care. The Veterans Administration does not offer family care for anyone who is not 100 percent disabled. So if you fall in something below 100 percent, your family is not eligible for medical care from the VA. But on the other hand, if you are above the 30 percent threshold in disability, as determined by the DOD, the family is eligible for, essentially, health care. Now that’s – there are co-pays, there are – this is not, we’re not talking free here – but we’re talking about a very solid, good healthcare plan for the family.”

The interview with Lt. Gen. Scott follows a report by NPR Science Correspondent Joseph Shapiro, airing today on All Things Considered, which examines the complex healthcare and disability benefits system faced by many veterans.

A rushed transcript of the interview with Lt. Gen. Scott is below. All excerpts must be credited to NPR News All Things Considered. Television usage must include on-screen credit with NPR logo. The audio of the interview will be made available at www.NPR.org at approximately 7:00 p.m. ET.

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon news magazine, is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris, and Robert Siegel and reaches 11.5 million listeners weekly. To find local stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org.

-NPR-

[INTRO OMITTED]

GENERAL JAMES TERRY SCOTT: I’m speaking today for myself and not for the commission or the other commissioners. What I think would best serve our service members, and for that matter, the services in the VA, is for the DOD to make an assessment of fitness or unfitness for duty, and the service member then passes immediately to the VA for evaluation of disability or disabilities. And that should cut out the wide variation amongst the services and between DOD and VA.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Given that the VA itself has a backlog in the hundreds of thousands, are they in any position to take on a new responsibility?

GEN. SCOTT: Well, 80 percent of those soldiers who appear before the physical evaluation board show up at VA’s doorstep anyway. That’s about 12,000 a year. So 20 percent – what’s that, 2400 more cases – would have to be adjudicated by the VA. My sensing is that there is agreement that the veterans disability side of the veterans secretariat needs more people in the adjudication business, and I sense that that’s part of the solution.

MR. SIEGEL: Well, back to what the situation is now. We heard you say in your Senate testimony that, as you see it, the Pentagon has a strong incentive to rate people under 30 percent disabled because that way they limit their obligation to them to severance pay rather than very expensive medical costs. Do you believe that that incentive was actually articulated to people who are doing the ratings? Did somebody say, let’s keep them low because we can’t afford too many disabled vets qualifying for lifelong DOD medical care, or did people just understand what the incentive was?

GEN. SCOTT: Well I don’t think that that has ever been articulated. There is a very widespread perception in the veterans community and the veteran service organization community that DOD does, in fact, take that into consideration. Obviously there is no evidence of that, and I would prefer to think that it’s just a matter of perception, and the fact that there’s such a shade – there’s a fine shade of difference between 30 and not 30.

MR. SIEGEL: Explain to us, for people who unfamiliar with these systems, if somebody is rated, say, 30 or 40 percent disabled by the Department of Defense and they qualify for health insurance, what is the difference for them and their families between that situation and coming out 20 percent disabled and then going to the veterans hospital instead?

GEN. SCOTT: Well, the primary difference is the family care. The Veterans Administration does not offer family care for anyone who is not 100 percent disabled. So if you fall in something below 100 percent, your family is not eligible for medical care from the VA. But on the other hand, if you are above the 30 percent threshold in disability, as determined by the DOD, the family is eligible for, essentially, health care. Now that’s – there are co-pays, there are – this is not, we’re not talking free here –

MR. SIEGEL: Right, right.

GEN. SCOTT: But we’re talking about a very solid, good healthcare plan for the family.

MR. SIEGEL: So it just happens that the issue of disability coming out of the armed services collides with the broader question we’re facing in American society, which is health insurance and who has it and who doesn’t have it.

GEN. SCOTT: Exactly. If there were universal health insurance of some kind, most of this would go away in terms of the difference between the 29 percent and the 31 percent disability. But in the current environment, it does make, as you well know, a big difference as to whether or not your family has insurance coverage.

MR. SIEGEL: Well, General Scott, thank you very much for talking with us today.

GEN. SCOTT: My pleasure.

MR. SIEGEL: It’s General James Terry Scott, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who is the chairman of the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission.

(END)