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VA Benefits Could Expand for Former POWs

Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2003 – President Bush has proposed legislation to Congress that would improve benefits for former prisoners of war, responding to the needs of Operation Iraqi Freedom POWs.

"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. Principi.

For its disability compensation program, the Department of Veterans Affairs currently presumes that certain medical conditions in former POWs held at least 30 days are related to their captivity. This allows veterans to 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 co-payments 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.

"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," Principi said.

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.

Early feedback indicates that VA is receiving hundreds of claims from POWs for new benefits or for higher disability ratings.

VA is taking special efforts to process the claims of older veterans quickly, including those of former U.S. POWs who served in World War II. The average age for this group is 82.

VA maintains a Web site with detailed information on its benefits for former prisoners of war at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Benefits/POW/.

(Based on a VA news release.)

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