I interviewed my father, Bruce Blankley, who served in the Army Reserve, on the topic of common injuries occurring during military training and how they compare to civilian workplace injuries. With an extensive military career including active duty service in Operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom and in private industry as a human resource professional, he shared his personal experiences.
In 2014, the American Community Survey reported there are 19.3 million veterans living in the United States. 3.8 million Veterans live with a service-connected disability. A “service-connected” disability is one that was a result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. Severity of one’s disability is scaled from 0 to 100 percent, and eligibility for compensation depends on one’s rating. 1.1 million Veterans have a disability rating of 70% or higher. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2015/cb15-ff23.html. A Veteran may be entitled to disability benefits from psychological injury. A Veteran must meet the following: the stressor happened during service, the individual cannot function as well as before because of symptoms, and there is an official Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnoses from a doctor. https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/ptsd/. Disability for psychological injury is awarded on the same percentage scale as physical injury. A parallel could be drawn for a case for pain and suffering; it encompasses not just physical pain, but also emotional and mental injuries such as fear, insomnia, grief, worry, inconvenience and even the loss of the enjoyment of life.
My father receives military disability for a physical injury to his arm which occurred during a training exercise while on active duty, and hearing loss caused by proximity to artillery at firing ranges and heavy equipment noise incurred accumulatively over his 20+ year service. He says the military does a much better job now, however 20 years ago, hearing protection was merely recommended, not required.
When my father was called for active duty service following 9/11, he received an extensive physical exam, making record of every aspect of his physical condition. Post arm injury, my father began the process of applying for benefits. From start to finish, the process took 9 months. The assessment of percentage, as described above, allowed my father to be classified as 20% disabled. He receives additional compensation outside of his military retirement on a scale awarded to him by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He will continue to receive this benefit until his death. Ongoing percentage payments are similar to a worker’s compensation settlement that would be based on a permanent disability being established.
My father choose to join the Disable American Veterans (DAV), which advocates for its members to maintain benefits. Not unlike a union, this separate organization from the government advocates on its members’ behalf. Through their advocacy, they represent not only their 1 million members, but all living Veterans. “Annually, the organization provides more than 600,000 rides to veterans attending medical appointments and assists veterans with well over 200,000 benefit claims. In 2018, DAV helped veterans receive more than $20 billion in earned benefits. DAV’s services are offered at no cost to all generations of veterans, their families and survivors.” https://www.dav.org. My father appreciates living in our home state of South Dakota. He has Tricare insurance, another ongoing benefit to Veterans. In South Dakota, the VA Healthcare System is accessible with no wait times, allowing him to get immediate care.
My father agreed that many injuries he witnessed in the training field could be common place in an industrial environment that would require repetitive movements and strenuous activity. https://ankinlaw.com/workers-compensation-muscle-injury/. A key difference between worker’s compensation claims for repetitive stress injuries in the private sector and benefits awarded for similar injuries in the military known as “accumulative trauma” is the likelihood of award. Many employers will not have a baseline physical on record of that employee for comparative purposes. For my father’s arm injury, immediate surgery was performed followed by extensive physical therapy. He was able to continue his active duty service while recovering from surgery. The injury was not so severe that he was dismissed from service. My father did not have any medical bills associated with his arm surgery or physical therapy because the injury occurred while he was on active duty.
The assumed risk that comes with military service does not come lightly to soldiers. My father was quick to say that military service is not for everyone. The intensive training process offers a self-selection although standards vary depending on recruitment goals. Notably, military service is removed from the Census’ report of fatal occupational injuries. https://ankinlaw.com/dying-on-the-job/. In the private sector, regulations like OSHA are intended to protect workers. Military training is like manufacturing orientation. Appropriate training will limit injury potential. The responsibility is on the employer to create a safe workplace. When an injury incident happens, in both military and private industry, an investigation takes place. I asked my father what protections are in place for a solider when chain of command can alter the ability of an individual reporting negligence or abuse. He experienced situations in the training field in which the site was shut down for a serious injury. “Every officer is a safety officer” he shared. It is in the best interest of the company to protect each other. A private may subvert the chain of command if the commanding officer is unresponsive to the issue. The military has the ability to dismiss an individual from service for any or no cause. This resembles private industry doing business in Right to Work states. My father takes a lot of pride in his service. “Military service is a privilege, not a right,” he said.