Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are introducing legislation today to ensure that wounded service members do not go without income due to injuries sustained in the line of duty. Currently, many are going without compensation of any kind while they wait for their VA claims to be processed because they are never told about the patchwork of military compensation programs designed to care for them as they transition back to civilian life. Feingold and Murkowski’s Wounded Warrior Transition Assistance Act would help ensure that wounded reservists and members of the Guard are informed of the various programs to compensate them for their injuries before they separate from the military and to guarantee that there is no gap in income as they transition into the VA. The legislation would also ensure that wounded service members have access to trained advocates to help them navigate the complicated medical discharge process. It would also enable injured members of the National Guard and Reservists to remain on active duty, ideally while living at home, to receive treatment through the military medical system at government expense. This can be important to members of the National Guard and Reserves who live in places where care through the Veterans Administration is not readily available.
“This bill was inspired by a young soldier from Wisconsin who came to me for assistance after falling through the cracks while transitioning from active duty to the VA system,” Feingold said. “Allowing the men and women who selflessly serve our country to be left behind is unacceptable. We must do everything in our power to ensure these brave Americans do not go through extreme financial hardships due to injuries incurred while serving their country."
“I am proud to join with Senator Feingold in this important legislation. It addresses a number of issues that were identified in a November 2007 field hearing I conducted in Anchorage. That hearing established that members of the National Guard and Reserves who serve our country proudly in Iraq and Afghanistan could fall through the cracks when it comes to care and benefits when they are released from active duty and return to their home communities. This bill is important for rural Alaskans serving in the Guard and Reserves because it provides that their service related conditions, including psychological conditions, can be treated in the military medical system, with travel and living expenses paid for by the United States Government. While the VA provides care to members of the Guard and Reserve who are released from active duty, travel to the VA facility and living expenses at the VA facility are the expense of the patient in all too many cases,” Murkowski said.
The legislation was inspired by a young soldier from Wisconsin who came to Sen. Feingold for assistance when he returned from an overseas deployment with serious wounds. He was separated from the Army without going through the medical discharge process even though he had sustained a serious injury that impaired his ability to work. No one had informed him that he may have been entitled to medical retirement, temporary disability retirement, combat-related special compensation or incapacitation pay due to the extent of his injuries. After his separation, it took several months for the VA to review all of his claims and begin fully compensating him for his injuries. This imposed a profound economic hardship on his family. Nearly a year later, the Army has recognized its mistake and plans to evaluate him for medical retirement or placement on the temporary disability retirement list. According to the Wisconsin National Guard, these gaps in care as service members transition out of the military remain common.
Feingold and Murkowski’s legislation has broad support among military and veteran service organizations and is endorsed by Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. The cost of the legislation is fully offset so as not to increase the federal deficit.