WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a move to fix budget woes and stanch abuse of disability compensation, the Department of Veterans Affairs now requires applicants to disclose whether or not they were wearing their reflective green PT belt during their service-related injury.
“We want to make sure that veterans are only being compensated if they took all reasonable measures to mitigate risk of injury,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “Imagine that a soldier is running at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, and is struck by a military vehicle. The issue could have been avoided entirely had the soldier been wearing his PT belt, and neither the Department of Defense nor the VA can be held responsible for that.”
Servicemembers who were not now forfeit all entitlement to benefits for that injury. Nearly all opponents of the new measure contest that it goes too far, though.
“I received a Purple Heart and Silver Star for Valor for my actions when my platoon was ambushed last year, and now I’m being medically retired," one soldier told Duffel Blog, on condition of anonymity. "The only problem is that the Army isn’t giving me anything for my missing leg, because I wasn’t wearing my PT belt when I stepped on an IED while carrying my buddy out of the kill zone."
The above soldier is, however, receiving disability benefits for his unrelated injuries, such as the ankle he sprained during PT while wearing his reflective belt. The VA required verification that the ankle in question was not, in fact, the one that the soldier lost to the IED, since that would have voided his benefits as well.
Secretary McDonald is adamant that the restrictions universally apply. “Well, if a servicemember is hiding in the graperows of a farmer’s field without his reflective belt during a firefight, how can we know that the enemy meant to shoot him? Perhaps they were trying not to shoot him, and had he been wearing his reflective belt, they would have known where to avoid shooting. Shame on any servicemember who tries to collect benefits after basically getting himself shot on purpose.”
Some soldiers, like Spc. Aaron Cohenberg, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division, see no difference. “I’m getting my benefits one way or another, dude. I mean, yeah, of course I was wearing my reflective belt to bed when I got sleep apnea. I said so on the questionnaire, it’s official now. Medical retirement, here I come. I did everything I could to prevent it, so pay up Army!”
Other new requirements include verifying that a servicemember’s MEDPROS was green when he started showing signs of PTSD, and that his DEERS and SGLI were accurate.