(Washington D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) called on top officials at the
Historic Joint Hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee
Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to investigate reports of service members being "low-balled" on their disability ratings. Murray also demanded a rating system that will accurately rate service members with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and called for an investigation of a so called "Wal-Mart greeter standard" that has been reported by soldiers at Fort Lewis. The questioning occurred at a historic joint hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senior officials from both the DoD and VA appeared before the panel.

Underestimating Disability Claims

Murray began her questioning by asking about reports that service members' disability ratings are being intentionally underestimated as a cost saving measure. Murray described how she is concerned by inconsistencies with previous war time disability levels (listen to Vietnam era statistics Murray sites), and discrepancies between how the DoD and the VA are currently rating returning service members. The disability rating system determines the level of care service members will be guaranteed for the rest of their lives.

Murray told Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England - "It just doesn't make sense to me ...we know we have a high number of men and women coming home injured. There is a lot of concern that DoD is deliberately underestimating service member's disabilities."

England responded that that he would look into the reports of underestimated claims.

Need for an Accurate Disability Rating System for TBI and PTSD

Senator Murray also asked about how the DoD and VA are going to address the large number of service members returning with TBI and PTSD who are being given low disability ratings. Murray is concerned that due to the frequently invisible nature of these injuries and the fact that symptoms often do not appear until after initial evaluations, that service members with these conditions are slipping through the cracks.

"I am especially concerned about those members of the military who have been discharged and who have those unseen wounds of war - TBI and PTSD - who were rated are we going to go back and capture those people and make sure that they are rated accurately?"

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England said that Murray had a "valid concern" and that they "need to make sure we address this right."

The "Wal-Mart Greeter Test"

Senator Murray also asked England to investigate a Tacoma News Tribune article she read that described a "Wal-Mart greeter test" for returning Army soldiers at Fort Lewis in Tacoma. The article mentioned that Fort Lewis soldiers had indicated to an attorney that Physical Evaluation Boards (PEB) where applying a "Wal-Mart greeter test", whereby if a soldier could function as a Wal-Mart greeter he or she would receive a rating of zero percent disability. Read that article.

"If they can respond and smile they are going to be OK?...I want to make sure you are investigating this." Murray said.

England promised that he would look into the issue.