Disabled veterans will see a dramatic increase in their life insurance coverage, and new protections in how traumatic injury insurance claims are paid out, under reforms included in a massive veterans bill passed by Congress this week.
The changes are just two of dozens of new initiatives in the bill, which was unanimously approved by both chambers and is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump in coming days.
The legislation — named for former Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and outgoing House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn. — lifts cap for the Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance program from $10,000 to $40,000 in a move that advocates say is long overdue.
“The program was adopted in the 1950s to help address the growing population of veterans left without insurance due to an inability to pass a life insurance physical,” said Derek Fronabarger, a legislative director with Wounded Warrior Project.
“The pay-out amount has not changed since the program was established, and the benefit was significantly attrited over the years by inflation. This change will greatly improve life insurance benefits for service-disabled veterans.”
The S-DVI program is designed to give access to low-cost life insurance to individuals who likely otherwise would not qualify because of their medical status. By raising the cap, lawmakers hope to provide more financial assurances to their families, and better match the program with current veterans’ needs.
Similarly, provisions related to the Traumatic Injury Protection Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance program included in the bill are designed to provide more clarity to families when claims are rejected. The provision was inspired by the case of Sgt. 1st Class Cameron Corder, who spent four years fighting with Army bureaucracy for TSGLI payouts after his back injury in Afghanistan.
The new legislation requires that troops or veterans denied the benefits — which can total up to $100,000 for some injuries — get a detailed explanation of the reasons for the denial, and that those same criteria be used in subsequent appeals of the claims.
In Corder’s case, Army officials gave multiple, sometimes contradictory, reasons for denying his claim. The money was ultimately approved only after intervention from his congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.
Kildee, who was one of the authors of the new language, called the changes necessary to make sure troops are receiving the benefits they have earned.
“An injured servicemember should never have to go through a difficult and lengthy bureaucratic ordeal to get the benefits they deserve,” he said in a statement. “Our men and women in uniform, who defend our freedoms, represent the best of this country, and we owe them our full support when they return home.”
Both of the insurance changes are set to go into effect early next year, pending the president’s signature on the legislation.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.