August 15, 2011
Only a fraction of the nation’s disabled veterans seek increased benefits because they aren’t aware of their right to appeal and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall wants to see an intensified effort to educate them.
To heighten the awareness of the military’s Physical Disability Board of Review, advocates on Monday urged the Pentagon to use phone calls, advertisements on radio and television as well as social media to reach disabled veterans.
“To be most effective, there has to be multiple avenues of outreach,” said Ryan Pavlu, executive vice president of warrior engagement for the Wounded Warriors Project.
Pavlu was responding to Udall’s concerns, which the Colorado Democrat outlined in a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday.
In his letter, Udall asked the VA to help make eligible veterans aware of the appeals process and the Board of Review, which was created in 2008 as part of the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act. It was passed by Congress, in response to charges that not all wounded warriors were receiving adequate care. Soldiers discharged between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2009 are eligible to apply.
According to a statement from Udall’s office, 56 percent of veterans who appealed to the DoD had their benefits increased. But of the 77,000 eligible vets, only 2,411 have applied. There are 5,500 eligible veterans in Colorado.
Udall believes few apply because few know their full rights, and he wants to fix that. He wants the VA to send out letters to every eligible wounded warrior in the country, notifying them of their right to appeal.
The review board is administered by the Air Force, and it examines each disability case individually to determine if benefits mistakes were made during the discharge process.
“This program was set up because we know many service members may not have received the benefits they earned – but we need to get out the word,” said Udall. “By working together, the (VA and DoD) could help thousands of former service members get the best treatment possible for injuries sustained during their service.”
The reason the program hasn’t been more widely publicized yet is because the Air Force was easing into it, to make sure the review board didn’t get immediately overloaded with appeals, Pavlu said.
The review board and the Air Force have been training Wounded Warrior Project staff since February to help them reach out to disabled veterans.
But, Pavlu said, simply writing letters to eligible veterans won’t be enough to get the word out.
Even Bill Conroy, the state director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, had just heard about the appeal process last week.
And though he said it’s been “under-utilized,” Conroy likes the idea.
“I give them credit for being pro-active,” Conroy said. “It is needed, to make sure that veterans are getting a fair shake.
“Unfortunately, the board is needed, to make sure that military personnel who are being discharged are being discharged correctly, not just being shoved out.”
Contact the writer 476-4825.