How disability benefit issue puts Army headquarters on the back foot
Given the protests by veterans, the Indian Army has denied any change in entitlements for any category of personnel getting compensation for death or disability
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Amidst protests by veterans over the new disability pension from the government, the Indian Army has come out with a clarification that there is no change in the entitlement for any category of personnel being granted compensation for death or disability.
The government has announced several changes in the disability pension rules of the armed forces, effective September 21, 2023. The new guidelines are called “Entitlement Rules of Casualty Pension and Disability Compensation Award to Armed Forces Personnel 2023“. The new rules have revised the types of disabilities, replaced the term ‘disability element’ with ‘impairment relief’ under the new rules, and replaced the existing norms on disability pensions for armed forces personnel. In addition, the definition, calculation method and eligibility criteria have also changed.
The new disability pension policy came following the Department of Military Affairs forming a panel after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in a report presented in Parliament on March 27, raised concerns about pensions awarded to a “higher percentage” of officers, especially medical officers. The country’s top auditor stated that 36-40 per cent of officers leaving service each year receive disability pensions, compared to 15-18 per cent of jawans. The CAG report also noted a “significantly higher” percentage of retiring medical officers (mostly doctors) receiving disability pensions (44-58 per cent), compared to other army officers.
Several former army generals have come down heavily on the new disability rules. Lt Gen. H.S. Panag, a former northern army commander, said the new disability pension policy for soldiers will discourage young Indians from joining the military.While talking about the misapprehensions among a section of ex-servicemen on the revision of provisions that govern the grant of disability pension, a panel of officers, headed by the adjutant general (AG),discussed the issue with five organisations of the veterans earlier this week.
The army headquarters clarified that the Revised Entitlement Rules are based on recommendations of a study involving all three services, armed forces medical services, ex-servicemen welfare and the finance department of the ministry of defence. “The aim of the study was to protect the genuine interests of pensioners who get disabled during service while preventing the exploitation of its liberal provisions from misuse,” said Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan, while adding that the Guide to Medical Officers has been vetted by the ministry of health and family welfare.
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The defence ministry describes disability as a condition resulting in “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment” that hinders full participation in society or “a functional impairment that inhibits an individual from effectively discharging duties of a military nature or being provided alternate employment within the service, even though the individual may otherwise be fit to participate normally in society”.
The provision of the revised entitlement rules for the grant of disability pension will be applicable for personnel who retire after September 21, 2023.
The chief of defence staff made it clear that it has no retrospective application, and doesn’t, in any manner, alter the emoluments of war widow family pensioners or veterans.
The disability element has been renamed as Impairment Relief in respect of only those personnel who are not invalidated due to their nature of disabilities and continue to serve till their term of engagement.
“The revised policy will not put armed forces personnel at a disadvantage compared to their civilian counterparts,” said Gen. Chauhan. He added that the revision of Entitlement Rules and Guide to Medical Officers will help retain a high degree of operational efficiency and motivation in all ranks of the armed forces.
However, a former army officer said on condition of anonymity that the definition and entitlement and percentages of disability have been totally destroyed, which means people won’t get disability or death benefits in the first place since most medical conditions will not be regarded as “attributable to, or aggravated by military service”, which is a prerequisite for the said benefits. The officer added that the issue is not about change in nomenclature, rather it is about the change in “attributable/aggravated”.If there is no change, why were the new rules brought about in the first place.
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