Mike Kueber's Blog

June 6, 2012

Military disability

Filed under: Issues,Military,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:26 pm
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I have a conservative, 60-something friend who is so frustrated by what he perceives as a precipitous decline of America that he is approaching a nihilistic philosophy.  To feed his nihilism, he almost anally tracks two items:

  1. An alarming number of our co-workers at USAA are dropping dead before reaching the golden age of 70.  While wondering if there was something in the water, he decided to start drawing his Social Security and pension as soon as possible.
  2. An alarming number of his personal acquaintances are fraudulently on some form of disability – primarily social-security disability or military disability – and this ensures the ultimate bankruptcy of America.

I haven’t been as alarmed by the premature deaths, which almost invariably were related to smoking and being overweight, but I have heard horror stories about the abuse of various disability pensions, with the most egregious being the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) granting a disability pension at a rate 12 times greater than any other railroad. 

The LIRR scandal, however, didn’t hit home with me because I characterized as just another NYC dysfunction.  Everyone knows that NYC has been dysfunction since the days of Tammany Hall.  But social-security disability and military disability are expenditures that hit home because they are paid out of my taxes. 

The issue was brought even closer to home a couple of weeks ago when a relative stopped by my apartment for a visit.  This relative has been in the Army for several years, with multiple deployments to the Iraq and Afghanistan, and is still suffering the effects of injuries suffered from an IED or grenade. 

During a conversation at my apartment pool, he mentioned that his injuries will probably result in his disability discharge from the Army.  When I asked him about the financial benefits of such a discharge, he said that he will continue to receive pay as if he were in the Army for the rest of his life. 

Well, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a serviceman being paid if his military injuries prevent him from working, but then I remembered my conservative friend telling me about co-workers at USAA who were earning wonderful salaries while simultaneously receiving 100% military disability.  That doesn’t make sense.

Before having the opportunity to research this issue, I had the opportunity to discuss it with a couple a military men.  Yesterday, while helping the Cervera congressional campaign take down some 4×8 political signs, I met two Marines who were also helping in the effort.  During our conversations, I learned that one was already on 100% disability and the other was planning to join him within months. 

When I asked them whether a 100% military disability was granted even if the person was able to do some other nonmilitary work, they said it was.  According to them, that’s always been a unique characteristic of military disability – i.e., unlike social-security disability, military disability doesn’t mean that you are unable to work; it means that you are unable to serve in the military.

Today, I finally found the time to do some internet research.  According to Rand’s 2005 “An Analysis of Military Disability Compensation,” military disability ratings are supposed to be based on the effect of the service-related disability on an individual’s civilian earning capacity.     This objective is specifically provided for in the Code of Federal Regulations – Title 38, § 4.1   Essentials of evaluative rating. 

  • This rating schedule is primarily a guide in the evaluation of disability resulting from all types of diseases and injuries encountered as a result of or incident to military service. The percentage ratings represent as far as can practicably be determined the average impairment in earning capacity resulting from such diseases and injuries and their residual conditions in civil occupations. Generally, the degrees of disability specified are considered adequate to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses proportionate to the severity of the several grades of disability. For the application of this schedule, accurate and fully descriptive medical examinations are required, with emphasis upon the limitation of activity imposed by the disabling condition. Over a period of many years, a veteran’s disability claim may require reratings in accordance with changes in laws, medical knowledge and his or her physical or mental condition. It is thus essential, both in the examination and in the evaluation of disability, that each disability be viewed in relation to its history.

However, despite this objective, the Rand study concluded that military-disability evaluations are way too generous because the detailed guidelines are based on our past economy with mostly physical-labor jobs (manufacturing and agriculture) instead of current economy with mostly  information processing.  Jobs at USAA are a perfect example of service-related disabilities not significantly limiting a veteran’s ability to earn an undiminished salary.

As America deals with its structural-deficit problem, military disabilities should not be a sacred cow.  Because our economy has changed, the disability program needs to be tweaked to fit the changed economy.



  1. Good thinking!

    Comment by Bob Bevard — June 6, 2012 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  2. Your mention of the LIRR Disability “scandal” is typical of writers posting things about which they know nothing. Why let facts spoil a good article, right?

    The LIRR retirees were investigated by 14 independent agencies, including Congress, all of which found no wrong doing. The RRB, which funds the pensions receives no tax money and is entirely self-sufficient.

    And finally, LIRR retirees file for disability at 12 times the national rate because they are the only ones who can. The pension is available only until age 65, which is the retirement age on every railroad other than the LIRR, where employees’ contributions permit them to retire at age 50.

    Learn, read and research before you write. And then you may be credible.

    Comment by Jeff Rosen — June 8, 2012 @ 11:53 am | Reply

    • Jeff, I’ve been reading about this scandal for years (since 2008), and I disagree that no wrong-doing has been found. In fact, a new set of criminal prosecutions for fraudulent claims is currently being prosecuted.

      Using the term “self-sufficient” in connection with the LIRR and RRB is funny.

      Anyone who defends LIRR disability pensions endangers their credibility, not mine.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — June 8, 2012 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

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