New program expedites benefits for the wounded
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, January 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — Severely-injured combat troops could skip months of waiting for veterans benefits under a new program unveiled Thursday by the Defense Department.

The Expedited Disability Evaluation System Process, a cooperative effort between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, would allow troops with “catastrophic” combat injuries to move from active-duty to veteran status within three or four months, making them eligible for veterans benefits immediately.

Typically that process can take more than a year, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. The new policy, which should affect about 200 troops a year, is optional and designed for those who believe a shift to VA care and benefits would make rehabilitation easier.

“This new policy should allow servicemembers and their families to focus on the essentials of recovery, reintegration, employment and independent living,” acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Michael L. Dominguez said in a statement. “The policy supports our belief that there must be a distinction for those who incur devastating disabilities in combat.”