By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
LONDON, Dec. 15 -- The British government is doubling the maximum cash payment it gives to severely wounded soldiers after criticism that amputees and other veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars were not suitably compensated.
The Defense Ministry announced Monday that the current limit of 285,000 British pounds, or $428,000 at current exchange rates, would be raised to 570,000 pounds, or $855,000.
The increase will apply retroactively, with the government dividing $15 million among 2,700 wounded soldiers who recently received lump-sum payments.
In the U.S. military, injured service members with a "disability rating" of 30 percent or less qualify for a lump-sum severance payment. An Army specialist with three years of service could receive as much as $24,000 after a combat injury; a sergeant first class with 19 years of service would get as much as $129,000, according to Samuel Rutherford, director of officer and enlisted personnel management at the Pentagon.
Rutherford said that troops with higher levels of disability do not receive a lump sum but are paid a monthly annuity that in some cases can be as much as their base pay at retirement, plus complete medical coverage.
The British government has been under pressure by military families and advocates to compensate the growing number of war wounded. Media campaigns have also drawn attention to the disparity between the large sums awarded in personal-injury cases involving civilians and the amounts paid to wounded soldiers.
"Justice for our Injured Heroes," blared Monday's front-page headline in the Daily Mail. The tabloid had noted that a civilian servicewoman who damaged her hand in the office had received $725,000 in a civil case, while paratrooper Ben Parkinson, 24, who lost both of his legs, the use of one arm, his ability to speak, and much of his memory in a mine explosion in Afghanistan, had been offered $228,000 under the military compensation program.
Parkinson's payment will now double. The new Armed Forces Compensation Scheme will increase payments to soldiers from 10 percent to 100 percent depending on the severity of injury, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The most injured soldiers, in addition to receiving a lump-sum payment, will also be entitled to lifetime monthly payments. That would mean that a severely wounded young soldier could receive more than $1.5 million over the course of his life, the statement said.
Britain's undersecretary of state for defense, Kevan Jones, said the armed forces personnel "deserve the very best support," and that the new compensation package "will be a great boost to our injured personnel and their families."
Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, said the new program "is particularly good news coming just before Christmas."
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington contributed to this report.