Service Women’s Action Network Taunts Amputee Veteran

VA Headquarters / Twitter
• January 12, 2015 10:51 am


The New York Times profiled Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gade last week. It was an interesting piece about an interesting man.

Gade, a decorated Army officer and currently a professor at West Point, has been arguing for several years that the current system of payments for disabled veterans does more harm than good. This is, for obvious reasons, a fraught subject. Gade's consistent point throughout his publications and appearances has been that, while many veterans need disability payments to compensate them for the work they can no longer perform in civilian life due to their injuries, some veterans are harmed by a perverse system of incentives that encourages them to choose, in effect, a sense of victimhood over an attitude of self-help.

Gade has credibility on this issue. He is the recipient of two Purple Hearts, which he earned in Iraq (along with the Bronze Star). The second of his injuries cost him a leg.

As the Times summarizes the case:

Nearly 200 sick and wounded soldiers in a gym at Fort Carson last month listened silently as Lt. Col. Daniel Gade offered a surprising warning: The disability checks designed to help troops like them after they leave the service might actually be harmful.

As he paced back and forth in front of the soldiers, some of them leaning on crutches, Colonel Gade said that too many veterans become financially dependent on those monthly checks, choose not to find jobs and lose the sense of identity and self-worth that can come from work.

"People who stay home because they are getting paid enough to get by on disability are worse off," he said. "They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to live alone. You’ve seen these guys. And the system is driving you to become one of them, if you are not careful." …

His main goal is to reach young veterans who initially get modest compensation for less severe injuries, then seek a greater payout — a phenomenon critics call "the benefits escalator."

He points in particular to a federal program known as Individual Unemployability, for which veterans become eligible when the government gives them a rating of 60 percent disabled or more. The program pays them as if they are 100 percent disabled, as long as they can show their disabilities keep them from maintaining "substantially gainful employment."

The bump in benefits is substantial: Veterans getting $1,200 per month can receive up to $3,100 per month, as long as they do not work.

"From an economic standpoint, you would be crazy to get a job. It’s a trap," Colonel Gade said.

At Fort Carson, he attempted to recruit people to test his alternative to that system. With funding from private donors, he hopes next year to give 100 participants $55,000 to use toward anything that will help them secure employment, such as equipment for a business, training or professional certification. The participants must agree not to increase their initial disability ratings or use the Individual Unemployability program during the trial.

Veterans in the group would get a 25 percent bonus on everything they earn up to $40,000, an incentive designed to push them into the work force. The program will also track 100 veterans that get only the bonus payments, and a control group of 100 that gets nothing.

One of the reasons that policymakers fear to discuss such issues is the threat of being demagogued. Gade's argument here is a careful one. It is not that veterans are moochers, or that they don't deserve disability, but that the system, as currently designed, lures them into dependency and a sense of victimhood. The system makes their lives worse. Obviously this argument does not contradict the fact that there are many who deserve and will need disability for the rest of their lives.

But those whose careers depend on making sure that veterans see themselves as victims don't have time for a lot of nuance. The prize, in this case, goes to Greg Jacobs, the policy director at the Service Women's Action Network, or SWAN. SWAN is a radical left-wing group that, in the current administration, has managed the neat trick of passing itself off as something more or less mainstream. Here is Jacob's response to the Times article. Remember, his organization claims to speak for the mainstream of American veterans:

A "bootstrapper," for those not familiar with the lingo, is a term of abuse on the left, reserved for those who fail to check their privilege, and who believe, say, in the power of hard work. Never mind that the last thing that Gade is suggesting is that vets are "lazy moochers." Also, if Gade were an African-American female, how would that change the discussion? Would Jacobs be less offended, or would he just have to retreat to more a more defensible position on the battlefield of identity politics, to avoid actually having to engage with the argument at hand?

In case you were wondering, when they are not suggesting that the Abraham Lincoln quote that graces the headquarters of the VA in Washington is too gender-specific and ought to be removed, the folks at SWAN like to brag about their access to the White House.

Stay classy, guys.

Published under: Military, Veterans, Veterans Affairs