November 25, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert Gates has won plaudits all around for his stewardship of the Pentagon, enough so that (as Alex just noted) President-elect Barack Obama is reportedly likely to ask Gates to stick around for at least a year. But there is one thing the Pentagon has been up to lately that seems about as politically radioactive — and appalling — as it gets.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon has narrowed its definition of a combat-related disability. The new rule construes January’s “wounded warriors” law to authorize denial of benefits to, say, Marine Cpl. James Dixon, who had trauma from both a roadside bomb and a mine. He suffered brain injury, a concussion and hearing loss, and now he’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Dixon eventually won his fight with the Pentagon, and the accompanying $16,000 in benefits. He told the Times, “I was blown up twice in Iraq, and my injuries weren’t combat-related? It’s the most imbecile thing I’ve ever seen.”
In a letter to the group Disabled American Veterans, William J. Carr, deputy undersecretary of Defense, wrote that the new, narrowly construed definition of “combat-related” was needed to preserve the “special distinction for those who incur disabilities while participating in the risk of combat, in contrast with those injured otherwise.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Forces Committee, denies that this was the intention of the law. “When the disability is the same, the impact on the service member should be the same no matter whether the disability was incurred while training for combat at Ft. Hood or participating in actual combat in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Levin says.
The group Disabled American Veterans accuses the Pentagon of purposefully cutting corners to save money. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s hard to think of anything more politically tone-deaf — and that’s just the start of what’s wrong with this.