contradict VA's explanation on disparity in veterans' benefits
May 31, 2005
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - A key reason the Department of Veterans Affairs offered
recently to explain the wide disparity in veterans monthly disability
checks across the country is undercut by the agency's own data. The
data show that on average veterans of the same war receive vastly different
payments, depending on where they live.
The VA has struggled for months to explain why veterans in some states
receive lower payments than those in others. In releasing a new report
on the issue, the agency recently said demographic factors partly explained
the state-to-state difference - saying, for example, that veterans of
some wars are far more prevalent in certain states than others.
But an analysis of VA data shows that veterans of the same war get vastly
different payments depending on their state. The average payment for
World War II veterans, for example, goes from less than $6,000 a year
to more than $13,000, depending on the state.
"While they can point to demographics for some of the problems,
the real problem comes down to the amount of subjectivity that seems
to be favoring veterans in some states," said Robert Gibbs, a spokesman
for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has been battling the VA over the
low average payments to Illinois veterans.
At a news conference on May 19, VA officials said the differences partly
depended on how many veterans of a certain war lived in a certain state
and how much that group was paid on average across the country.
The VA pointed to World War II veterans nationwide, who get smaller
checks from the agency than veterans of the Vietnam or Korean wars.
So, the VA said, a state with a higher-than-average percentage of World
War II vets is likely to have lower-than-average veteran payments.
"They have more World War II vets in these low ... states, and
that's going to pull down your average payment," said the VA's
inspector general Richard Griffin, as he announced the results of a
study on the variation in VA payments. "The VA cannot control where
But World War II vets in Illinois get far less than World War II vets
in New Mexico, the state with the highest average payment, according
to VA data. In fact, the gap between Illinois and New Mexico is far
wider for World War II veterans than it is for veterans overall.
In Illinois, World War II vets bring home an average of $5,722 a year;
in New Mexico, it's $13,558 - or 137 percent more.
Among veterans of all time periods, the average annual check in Illinois
is $6,961; in New Mexico, it's $12,004 - or 72 percent more.
The same holds true for most of the other demographic categories the
VA used to explain the variation from high to low states, according
to Knight Ridder's analysis of the same data used by the VA's inspector
general. It also holds true when looking at the cluster of states at
the high end of the compensation ladder compared with those at the bottom.
The inspector general did say that several factors contribute to the
overall variation, and that he couldn't pinpoint which ones were more
important than others.
Beyond the demographic factors, the inspector general pointed to inconsistent
decisions from office to office, particularly on cases involving a veteran's
claim for post-traumatic stress disorder, as also contributing to the
variations. The inspector general also said the VA's antiquated disability
regulations, as well as staffing and training problems, can affect the
Further, the detailed information that shows how much veterans receive
by state and by each demographic group was contained in the full text
of the inspector general's 200-page report. But that information wasn't
handed out at the VA's news conference on the issue, and the agency's
public explanations of that data focused largely on other factors.
In its news conference, the VA repeatedly pointed to demographic factors
as playing a role in the wide variation in disability checks. Ticking
off a list of demographic factors, Griffin said that, "each one
of these elements bodes for a higher average amount in the high-cluster
states based on the distribution of veterans living in those states."
As an example, the inspector general's report pointed out that Vietnam
veterans on average bring home bigger checks than those from World War
II - and that "states with a high percentage of Vietnam veterans
and a low percentage of World War II veterans have higher average compensation
But World War II vets in New Mexico not only get more money than World
War II vets in Illinois - they also get more money than Vietnam vets
in Illinois. It suggests that the wide differences aren't due to what
percentage of World War II vets live in a particular state but how the
VA officials in those states decided claims.
The VA offered several other examples of what it called demographic
factors that helped explain the variation, including: the percentage
of veterans in a state represented by specialized veteran-service officers;
the percentage of veterans in a state who were enlisted - not officers;
and the percentage of veterans in a state who are retired from career
In each of those cases, Knight Ridder found, veterans in the high-paying
states get more than their peers in the low-paying states, even within
the specific groups.
Disabled veterans are entitled to payments that range from $1,296 to
$27,588. Regional offices in each state decide the veterans' claims,
which stem from physical and mental injuries incurred during military
Gerald Grahe, the VA's deputy assistant inspector general for auditing,
said there's still a need for a more detailed statistical analysis of
all the factors at play as the VA tries to explain the wide variance
in its payments. The inspector general recommended, and the VA agreed,
to undertake such an analysis.
About the study just released, Grahe said: "There just was not
time to do the more detailed analysis we would have liked to do."
listing is ranked in order for the average payment for all veterans
with New Mexico being No. 1 and Illinois at 50th.
The first listing is the state, the second is the average disability
payment per year for all veterans, the third is for World War II veterans
in that state and the fourth listing is the average disability payment
for Vietnam veterans in that state.
Payments to Veterans by State
U. S. Average
Average Disability Payment to Veterans
Average payment to World War II Veterans
Average payment to Vietnam Veterans