Wounded Iraq Veterans Generate New 'Traumatic Injury' Legislation
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 20, 2005 Three soldiers wounded in Iraq sparked new legislation to provide low-cost "traumatic injury" insurance for members of America's armed forces.
The legislation was announced April 19 at a Capitol Hill press conference by its sponsor, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.
The three soldiers, Staff Sgts. Heath Calhoun and Ryan Kelly and Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, were all seriously wounded in Iraq. They each underwent extensive medical treatments and periods of recuperation that resulted in severe financial hardships for their families. All wanted to do something to help alleviate similar hardships for those wounded in the future.
Craig said the soldiers visited his Senate office last week to discuss the need for this type of benefit. "It was their idea," he said.
The legislation will be offered as both an amendment to Emergency Supplemental legislation currently being debated in the Senate and a stand-alone bill. It would add a low-cost traumatic injury insurance benefit to the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance now provided to military members. In the event of traumatic injury, the benefit would provide an "immediate" lump-sum payment of $25,000 to $100,000 for certain catastrophic injuries incurred on active duty.
Traumatic injuries covered will include blindness; loss of limbs, speech or hearing; paralysis; burns greater than second degree covering 30 percent of the body or face; and certain traumatic brain injuries, according to a press release from the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The cost of the benefit would be covered by an insurance premium of about $1 per month for each servicemember. The coverage would also be available to members of the National Guard and Reserve. Family members would not be included in the benefit.
During the press conference, David S. C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, expressed the Defense Department's support for the legislation and praised the soldiers for their efforts to make the legislation a reality.
"These young men and their families have already nobly served their country in the theater of operations in the global war on terror," Chu said. "And they serve us again by bringing forward an important effort to help ensure that the transition back to civilian life will be as smooth as it can be."
Chu said the department recognizes there is no way to anticipate every expense, every challenge severely wounded veterans will face as they recuperate. "That is why we support this legislation and hope it will go on to a successful conclusion and become the law of the land," he said.
The three soldiers responsible for the legislation were also present at the press conference to lend their support for the bill. Feldbusch, an Army Ranger, was severely wounded when a piece of shrapnel entered his brain during an intense Iraqi artillery barrage, leaving him blind in both eyes. Calhoun lost both legs in a rocket-propelled-grenade attack, and Kelly lost his right leg to a roadside bomb.
"It was during my recovery process that I noticed there were some gaps in the financial coverage," Kelly said. "It wasn't a lack of support by DoD or the (Department of Veterans Affairs), but just a gap in the system.
"I can't stress enough the effect this will have on our brothers and sisters in the services," he said. "The difference it will make on the family unit during covalence is tremendous. The financial stress far outweighs the physical stress."
He said a soldier learning to walk on a prosthetic leg shouldn't be "wondering how long they can continue to make a payment on their home or how long their family can continue to visit."
Kelly urged the Senate to pass the legislation quickly. "Every day we wait," he said, "is a day another soldier and his family will have to deal with the recovery process without this insurance."