VA Seeks Expansion of Benefits for Former POWs

WASHINGTON (July 15, 2003) - Responding to the needs of service members who
were prisoners of war during Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush has
proposed legislation to Congress that would improve benefits for former

"What we're proposing is to eliminate the current requirement in federal law
that a former POW must be detained for at least 30 days in order to qualify
for full POW benefits," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J.

For its disability compensation program, the Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) currently presumes that certain medical conditions in former POWs who
were held at least 30 days are related to their captivity. Using this
presumption, a veteran may obtain financial benefits without providing
evidence directly linking a medical problem to captivity.

"That may have made sense years ago for some conditions linked to
nutritional deficiencies, but even a few days enduring terror at the hands
of enemy captors may lead to other conditions," Principi said.

The VA proposal also would improve dental care eligibility and exempt former
POWs from current copayments for medications for non-service connected
conditions. Currently, some ex-POWs may be charged $7 for drugs that treat
conditions unrelated to their service.

The current presumptions in law recognize that military medical records do
not cover periods of captivity, which make it difficult for a veteran to
provide evidence of the conditions endured. VA pays tax-free disability
compensation ranging from $104 to $2,193 monthly, depending on the degree of
disability, with additional sums for dependents.

In transmitting the draft bill to the speaker of the House and the president
of the Senate, Principi said, "Studies have shown that the physical
hardships and psychological stress endured by POWs have life-long effects on
health and on social and vocational adjustment."

Because benefits have changed over the years, VA took steps earlier this
year to ensure that all former POWs are aware of benefits to which they are
entitled. VA's outreach included mailing benefits information to more than
10,000 former POWs currently receiving compensation as well, as another
4,700 known ex-POWs not on its rolls.

Although results are now being collected to measure the effect of the
outreach campaign, early indications are that VA is receiving hundreds of
claims from POWs for new benefits or for higher disability ratings.

Because 93 per cent of U.S. former POWs served in World War II, a group with
an average age of 82, the overall number of surviving ex-POWs fell by nearly
2,800 last year. VA is taking special efforts to process the claims of
older veterans quickly.

In addition, VA maintains a Web site with detailed information on its
benefits for former prisoners of war at