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Wounded troops receiving cash payouts under new insurance program, VA says

WASHINGTON — Nearly 2,700 seriously wounded servicemembers have received cash payouts in the first nine months of the new traumatic injury insurance program, officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs said.

Thomas Lastowka, director of the VA Insurance Center, said the program has spent about $165 million on payouts between $25,000 and $100,000 since it began last December.

He told members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday that officials are pleased with the program thus far, but are planning a full review later this year to see if everyone eligible is aware of the program.

Sgt. John Keith Jr., a Fort Hood soldier whose leg and lungs were severely injured during an attack in Iraq in November 2004, praised the program for keeping him from financial ruin during his long recovery in Washington.

“Supporting a family of four, eating out three times a day (while in Washington), renting a car, gas and purchasing clothing for two growing children was very hard to do on a sergeant’s pay,” he said. “We went through our savings and more.

“After receiving [$100,000], I was able to replace my savings, pay off most of my debts, and buy my wife a new van. I remember thinking that the government really was trying to take care of my family.”

The insurance program is designed to provide quick cash for troops injured in the line of duty. Troops enrolled in the traditional Servicemembers Group Life Insurance policy pay an extra $1 a month for the coverage, and receive payouts based on the severity of their injuries.

Servicemembers injured in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and last December are eligible for retroactive payments. Nearly 85 percent of the payouts so far have been retroactive claims, VA officials said.

Lastowka said for the other wounded troops, the program has averaged about 60 days from the day of injury to receiving the money.

Senators expressed concern about that time frame, noting that the goal of the insurance is to provide immediate financial assistance to injured troops with unexpected bills and needs.

Lastowka said of those 60 days, about 30 are a result of the time it takes an injured servicemember to file a claim. Officials take another 14 to 21 days to review the case.

He expects that time frame to go down as physicians and counselors become more familiar with the filing process, and more accurate with the documentation needed for claims.

Used with permission from the Stars and Stripes. Copyright 2006 Stars and Stripes

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