It shouldn’t be this difficult for military veterans to receive medical benefits. The TSGLI Board continues the war on veterans at home.
When I was still in the Army, I was in a car accident that left me bedridden with a broken ankle for weeks. Like most soldiers, I paid into an insurance slush fund called the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, or SGLI, but there is a separate program under SGLI called TSGLI (Traumatic) that is supposed to provide benefits to servicemembers who meet the legal criteria for traumatic injuries and it does not matter if the injury occurred on duty or on leave.
I met the legal criteria, but after applying was denied on the grounds that because I used crutches to leave the hospital, even though I needed help getting to and from places for several weeks, I was considered “independently mobile,” even though I was incapable of doing things by myself. The TSGLI Offices rely heavily on the TSGLI Procedures Guide, which has no force of law, to make their decisions.
By this same logic, if you were a soldier whose leg had been blown off by an IED, you would be considered “independently mobile” with the use of crutches and therefore are ineligible for the TSGLI benefit because you are not incapacitated, even if you need help going to the bathroom, eating, getting up or down, getting in and out of a bathtub, and so on.
SGLI and TSGLI are insurance programs everyone in the service is encouraged to pay into, but just like private insurance it doesn’t guarantee that they will receive benefits when they are eligible for them. Like everything in the military, if the paperwork doesn’t meet their criteria, as far as they’re concerned, it never happened. As such, the TSGLI program has been a thorn in veterans’ sides for years, when it should be providing financial relief to those who meet the legal requirements.
As far back as 2007, it was reported that a soldier by the name of AJ Jefferson was denied the benefit after applying for it on account of his severe PTSD as well as a traumatic brain injury. Jefferson appealed the Pentagon, telling CNN that the TSGLI Board required soldiers to negotiate their claims through a complicated bureaucratic process that was burdensome to soldiers. The Army declined to comment. By 2012, it was reported that more than 30 cases had been filed against the TSGLI program. That number continues to go up.
In August 2013, SFC Cameron Corder sustained a back injury while tending to a wounded Marine aboard a helicopter in Afghanistan. After undergoing several surgeries, SFC Corder fell into financial hardship and applied for his TSGLI benefits, but was denied because his medical records did not meet the criteria. The following year, Corder was visited by U.S. Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan while receiving treatment at Walter Reed. Representative Kildee later called the TSGLI process a “bureaucratic runaround.”
Over the next four years, SFC Corder and Representative Kildee worked tirelessly with retired attorney Scott MacKay to obtain witness statements from numerous soldiers in SFC Corder’s unit, as well as have an orthopedic surgeon confirm SFC Corder’s back injuries were from the incident and not “prior back sprain,” to prove that the event took place at all. He was finally awarded his benefits in late 2017.
But four years is too long. Kildee is currently working on legislation to make the TSGLI process more transparent; but this is just the beginning of what needs to be done.
When 1Lt. Katie Ann Blanchard, an active duty RN at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, was set on fire and nearly murdered by a coworker, she applied for TSGLI benefits through the doctor treating her extensive burn wounds. Over twenty percent of her body was burned. What she got, like Corder, was the bureaucratic runaround. 1Lt. Blanchard’s doctor soon told her that her application was rejected on the basis that the one person on staff authorized to process it was unavailable. This was September 2016, nearly immediately after her attempted murder. Two months later her application was accepted, but then was lost for another two or three months. As of July 2017, Katie has yet to receive her benefits.
Read more about Lt. Katie Ann Blanchard here.
The TSGLI program has been a thorn in veterans’ sides for years, when it should be providing financial relief to those who meet the legal requirements.
Beyond transparency, there needs to be an overhaul of the entire program. The culture of it needs to change. For one, paperwork written by civilian doctors should not be held to rigid military standards, since civilian doctors are often not trained in TSGLI procedures. Criteria needs to be reformed on the basis of trying to award benefits, not deny them. All a servicemember should have to provide is proof the event took place to receive benefits, and then the details can be worked out later. The way that it’s set up now, the military works to deny benefits by disproving claims, when they should be releasing that money as soon as they can to the servicemember so they can get back on their feet.
As my own lawyer, Jake Jagdfeld of Johnson Becker PLLC, points out, “I’m shocked at how frequently the military denies TSGLI claims where the evidence favors the traumatically injured servicemember. People are giving up. They shouldn’t have to go out and hire a lawyer in this situation, but that’s what’s happening. We’re hoping to make a dent in the problem by pressing these cases in federal district court, and in lobbying Congress. It’s painstaking, but it’s a job we’re glad to do, and one that we’d be happy to work ourselves out of.”
Jagdfeld and his team have been active in lobbying the White House and Congress about TSGLI reform for years now. In a letter to President Barack Obama dated March 16, 2016, Jagdfeld wrote, “The Department of Defense is turning this program into an adversarial system of arbitrary and unjustified denials – which is not at all what the program was intended to be.”
If 30 days of hardship and incapacitation is going to be the standard, instead of awarding benefits “after 30 days” benefits should be awarded “up to 30 days,” and then renewed with every passing 30 days. Right now, applications are being denied as soon as they’re submitted. Instead, why not automatically award the benefit as soon as the application is filed, and then require additional paperwork in case of renewal? All it should take is for a doctor to write, “This person cannot do this or that for thirty days,” or something along those lines (I’m no doctor, after all) and it should be proof enough. That’s all it takes in the civilian insurance markets already, doctors submitting claims to insurance companies. Right?
Why is the Army’s TSGLI board so bent on denying benefits, to the degree that they are now avoiding processing applications at all? It took Corder four years. 1Lt Blanchard is coming up on year two of having these burns after that horrible event. How many more are there? I’ve applied several times since 2011. To this day, I have not received my benefit.
This is not a partisan issue. Everyone who cares about this country should be of the mind that our veterans and active servicemembers deserve the benefits they’ve paid into when they need them. That the TSGLI board is capable of acting this way, without transparency, is a disgrace. We need reform and we need it now, before more veterans are injured and forgotten.
If you are an injured servicemember seeking representation for a TSGLI benefit, click here to contact Johnson Becker PLLC.