Taking care of wounded soldiers

How many times have you heard news stories of wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq to financial hardship? Especially for those seriously wounded and those who can't return to the military, our hearts go out to them as they rebuild their lives.

Are you aware of the financial safety nets that the United States military offers to soldiers? I think that many consumers really don't know or understand what is available to disabled soldiers and former soldiers.

To start with, there is something called wounded warrior insurance. Basically, there are standard payouts depending on the soldier's injuries. The payouts range from $25,000 to $100,000, and obviously the more serious the injuries, the bigger the payout. This doesn't seem like a lot, but it can definitely help a family in the time of need or it can be the start of a savings account for future expenses.

The soldier then must be evaluated and assigned a percentage of disability. Medical evaluation boards evaluate the injuries and can assign a percentage from 10% to 100% disabled. The higher the percentage, the larger the other benefits soldiers can receive. While the evaluation teams have been accused of "low-balling" soldiers in the past, experts say the process is now very fair.

One benefit available is a medical pension (also known as disability retirement), which is given to every soldier discharged with a disability rating of 30% or higher. The amount of this pension is also influenced by the length of service prior to discharge. The basic formula is the soldier's base pay on active duty, multiplied by the percentage of disability. So for example, a soldier with base pay of $1,800 and 30% disability would receive $550 a month plus cost-of-living increases.

Then the soldier may also be eligible to receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is also based upon the percentage of disability, and the amounts currently range from $115 a month for 10% disabled to $2,471 for 100% disabled. There is also additional money that is paid depending upon whether there is a spouse or dependent children who are affected by the disability.

Continuing healthcare benefits are available too. If the soldier is 50% or more disabled, he or she qualifies for free healthcare for life. If the disability is less than that, lifetime healthcare from the VA is available at a significantly reduced cost. Wounded soldiers can also get monetary benefits for things like vocational training and adapting their homes for their disabilities.

So soldiers are eligible for a variety of payouts and programs to help them continue on with their lives even in the face of disabilities and injuries that affect them in the long-term. I think the best thing a soldier can do is prepare for the possibility of injury and make financial plans accordingly. Get educated about the benefits available in case of injury. Times following a major injury will be tough, but the federal government is seeing to it that there is financial assistance available to help those soldiers for the rest of their lives. Find out what's available and do everything you can to get the benefits you deserve.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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