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Bill would remove cap on traumatic injury payments

Mar. 25, 2014 - 09:27AM   |  
Rear Adm. Frank A. Morneau presents the Bronze Star Medal to Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2nd Class (Diver) Taylor J. Morris during a 2012 ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Two lawmakers have introduced a bill named in honor of Morris that would eliminate the cap on payments for multiple, severe injuries under the TSGLI program.
Rear Adm. Frank A. Morneau presents the Bronze Star Medal to Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2nd Class (Diver) Taylor J. Morris during a 2012 ceremony at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Two lawmakers have introduced a bill named in honor of Morris that would eliminate the cap on payments for multiple, severe injuries under the TSGLI program. (Navy)
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Two lawmakers have introduced a bill that would eliminate the $100,000 cap on payments to wounded warriors for multiple, severe injuries under the Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance program.

But one big unanswered question is whether the proposed legislation would apply retroactively for those who previously received multiple severe wounds, or only to future service members who may suffer such wounds. The current law governing the TSGLI program is retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001.

“We’re continuing to discuss” retroactivity, said Drew Pusateri, spokesman for Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.

Under current law, lump-sum TSGLI payments, which vary by injury, start at $25,000 and run to a maximum of $100,000 for injuries related to a single traumatic event. The loss of a hand, a foot, and eyesight, for example, each qualify for payment of $50,000. But if a service member suffered all three injuries in one incident, the maximum payment would be $100,000.

From its inception, TSGLI has covered both on- and off-duty injuries — for example, injuries suffered in a car accident or mowing the lawn at an off-base home.

The proposed bill would not change that aspect of TSGLI, but it would provide higher uncapped payments only for losses incurred under specific conditions: during armed conflict; in training under conditions simulating armed conflict; hazardous service; or a traumatic event caused “through an instrumentality of war.”

The bill is the Taylor Morris Act, named for a quadruple amputee from Iowa who was injured in a roadside bomb blast in 2012 in Afghanistan while serving as a Navy explosive ordinance disposal technician.

In a statement issued by Braley’s office, Morris said he had no idea how drastically his life was about to change.

“With multiple surgeries and years of rehabilitation, I was looking at a lifetime of costs,” he said. “I was so very fortunate to receive help from so many people across the United States. But not every person who is critically injured has the same support. This bill [would] help ease the burden of at least one aspect of recovery.”

“The fact that more service members are surviving severe injuries due to immediate medical treatment is a great development,” Braley said. “But this cap just isn’t fair to our injured veterans and needs to be eliminated.”

To qualify for TSGLI payments, troops must already be insured under the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance program and pay an extra $1 a month in premiums.

Since the TSGLI program was enacted in late 2005, the Veterans Affairs Department has approved 14,514 claims and paid out almost $812 million.

About 57 percent of the paid claims have involved combat injuries suffered in a war zone.

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