Pentagon report faults system on disability Many claims called unjustifiable

July 07, 1992|By Mark Thompson | Mark Thompson,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The military's disability system is a lot like a lottery: With perseverance, a soldier can wind up a winner.

Despite rules barring payments for stupidity or neglect, a new Pentagon inspector general's report shows:

* One serviceman shot himself in the knee while chasing rabbits at his parents' home at 11 p.m. and pocketed $4,700 in severance pay for his injury. Because he was breaking the law by hunting after sunset -- and running with a cocked and loaded gun -- he should have received nothing, the report said.

* A Marine partly blinded when hit in the eye by a thrown beer bottle was permitted to retire with 30 percent disability, even though he had been drinking the day of the fight, drank "four to six bottles of wine each day and used $1,500 worth of crack cocaine each month," the audit found.

* One soldier who lost his leg in Vietnam stayed in the Army another 19 years while the government paid for his medical degree as he specialized in orthopedics. In 1990, he accepted a tax-free disability retirement -- at 80 percent of his active-duty pay, or $36,000 a year. He is now a civilian orthopedist.

The report concluded that while more than 75 percent of disability claims are justified, the Defense Department's medical disability system "is not efficient or economical." Pentagon officials acknowledged weaknesses in the system and said they were making improvements.

"We recognize that some streamlining is good for the system," said Dr. Donald Mapes, an Air Force colonel who helps run the disability system. "We feel that can save considerable money."

However, Dr. Mapes disagreed with the assertion that some of the disabled were improperly evaluated. "None of the auditors were physicians, yet they said that highly qualified people like our physicians and other experts don't know how to do it," he said.

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