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Ohio ranks second to last in benefits to veterans

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Ohio ranks second to last among all states in disability payments to veterans. Now Ohio's congressional delegation is pushing legislation they say will narrow the gap.

Disabled veterans in Ohio averaged just over eight thousand dollars a year in benefits in 2006, the last year numbers are available. By comparison that's nearly four thousand dollars a year less than disabled vets in New Mexico. 49th place is actually a step up from the previous year, in which Ohio ranked dead last. That's unacceptable, says U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.

"$3 billion dollars a week we're spending on this war in Iraq, and the Administration didn't plan for this influx of veterans in Ohio," Brown says. "We need to take care of this backlog of complaints so these veterans get the care we deserve."

Brown has sponsored a bill that he says would shrink the disparity between disability payments in different states. One of the mechanisms to do so, he says, is to standardize training at the more than 50 VA offices around the country. Too often, he says, different offices provide different levels of service and accessibility.

"The whole point of the training, and bringing Ohio up from being 49th in the country per capita, is to make that more standard, the training, the operations and management of the VA," Brown says.

The Vetarans Disability Fairness Act would also require the VA to tighten employee evaluations, as well as submit an annual report to Congress regarding the progress on more uniform training.

"It's well-intentioned legislation that would absolutely no effect."

Larry Scott is the founder and editor of vawatchdog.org, a Web site that reports on news affecting veterans, and aligns veterans with various government services. He says the bill will not work.

"What it would do is create another reporting system that would absolutely not solve the problem," Scott says.

Scott says the biggest problem with the VA is not training, but different disability classifications in different states. A brain injury may mean 100 percent disability in one state, but only partial disability in other states. That's different from Social Security, says Frank Williams, who directs Ohio's office of Disabled American Veterans.

"Veterans are some what unique in their claims to the Social Security Administration, for instance," Williams says. "With Social Security, for instance, you're either disabled or you're not. With the VA there's different levels of disability."

But maybe not for long. Senator Brown has another bill before the Senate that would automatically make a disability in one system also a disability in the other.