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Identifying Barriers and Best Practices Study Act: Getting Benefits to National Guard and Reservists

Almost all veterans are promised disability and pension benefits to compensate for injuries they received while serving in the United States Armed Forces. However, veterans of the National Guard and Reserve are often denied these benefits or given insufficient payments that do not cover their medical problems.  This problem is so widespread because many underestimate the injuries that come from repetitive, physically strenuous work characteristic of the services performed by members of the National Guard and Reserve. It can be difficult to pinpoint a date when these injuries occurred, or even establish that they were incurred in the line of duty. Furthermore, they are often poorly documented, as service members are incentivized to trivialize them and go untreated so that they can continue their service. This inhibits reservists and members of the National Guard from getting the retirement benefits they deserve.

A bill, drafted by Representative Ro Khanna from California and advocated for by California Veteran Jerry Kromrey, attempts to change that. The proposed bill, known as the “Identifying Barriers and Best Practices Study Act,” would direct the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study to measure the amount of recipients and disability and pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs provided to members of the National Guard and members of Reserve components of the Armed Forces.  Furthermore, it would compare veterans of the National Guard and Reserve with veterans who served in the regular component.  Specifically, the study would record the percentage of veterans with service-connected disabilities in each group, the number of veterans in each group with each disability rating, the number of veterans in each group with a service-connected disability, the total number of claims for disability compensation and pension submitted, and how many of claims were disapproved or approved in each group or veterans. This data would aim to illuminate the problems facing members of the National Guard and Reserve components in obtaining adequate disability pension.

The most important portion of the bill, however, requires a report to identify common barriers for members of the National Guard and Reserve components in obtaining disability benefits, including barriers relating to documentation of injuries incurred while serving, such as line of duty letters. This report can achieve the duel objectives of enabling the Armed Forces to ensure members of the National Guard and Reserve components are fairly compensated and giving tools to legislators so they can propose bills to correct the problem. Rep. Khanna expressed that his hope was that, “This study will help us learn more about the nature of infirmities or incapacities suffered while these brave men and women served. We must resolve to do everything we can to make sure they are taken care of and have the benefits they earned.”

The bill passed the House on December 19, 2019 and is currently awaiting action by the Senate.  Both Rep. Khanna and Kromrey are hopeful that it will become enacted into law.  Please contact your Senator to advocate for passing this bill as it would break down the barriers that prevent members of the National Guard and Reserve components to receive the VA disability benefits they deserve.

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