How the Military Has Repaid Iraq Vets With Permanent Disabilities

Waiting for Change

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs acknowledge that the disability rating process is confusing and often cumbersome. The two departments rate disabilities in separate processes, which are separate still from the Social Security disability process.

Veterans often have to prove they were exposed to blasts and have to follow an endless paper trail to substantiate injuries and medical records.

The military rating system, last overhauled in the 1940s, emphasizes the main physical injury and its impact on manual labor.

The complexities of brain injuries and multiple injuries from this war do not fit as easily into the old rating system.

While the Defense Department generally considers only the injury that renders a service member unfit for duty, Veterans Affairs evaluates multiple injuries and their impact.

The result, frequently, is vastly different ratings from each agency.

The president's commission on veterans' care headed by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health Secretary Donna Shalala released its suggestions last summer.

One of their key recommendations was to "completely restructure the disability and compensation systems."

President Bush gave marching orders to the secretary of defense and the secretary of veterans affairs "to look at every one of these recommendations, to take them seriously and to implement them."

So far, though, very little has changed.

'Miracles Do Happen'

Most of the survivors we talked to feel lucky to be alive and are dreaming of their futures.

When asked what he sees up ahead, Glass laughed. "I'll be in a big mansion," he said.

And for Phillip's mother, the dream is to see her son walk again someday.

She said confidently, "Miracles do happen."

MEENA HARTENSTEIN contributed to this report.

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