VA: Combat injuries to urinary tract and genitals deserve payment
In response to the increased brutality of the war in Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs will now make payments to service members who have suffered injuries to the urinary tract or genitals.
A male service member who loses use of his penis, or the organ itself, because of a combat injury will receive $50,000. Payment for loss of a single testicle will be $25,000.
A female service member will receive $50,000 for the loss of use of her uterus, both ovaries or vagina. Payment for loss of one ovary would be $25,000.
Payments are separate from medical care provided by military medicine and the Veterans Affairs system. Anyone suffering a genitourinary injury since Oct. 7, 2001, is eligible, according to Veterans Affairs regulations published Friday in the Federal Register.
As U.S. personnel perform more walking patrols in Afghan villages, and the Taliban increases its deadly proficiency in burying roadside bombs, more soldiers, sailors and Marines are suffering traumatic injuries to their urinary tracts and genitals. Walking patrols are considered a better strategy to win support from Afghan villagers than riding in heavily armored vehicles.
In 2009, the percentage of combat-wounded patients brought to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany who had suffered genitourinary wounds was 4.8%. In 2010, the figure was 9.1%, according to the Veterans Affairs filing in the Federal Register.
Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, 570 service members have suffered severe wounds of the urinary tract and genitals, the department said.
In 2009, 52 personnel were brought to Landstuhl with injuries to their genitals or urinary tract. In 2010, that figure was 142, including 21 who lost a testicle and eight who lost both testicles, according to Department of Defense figures.
Military doctors have found that "erectile dysfunction is common in male service members whom they have treated following genitourinary injuries," according to the Veterans Affairs filing. Many suffer "complete loss of the ability to perform sexual intercourse."
The payments will be made under the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance program that offers life insurance at the rate of $13 a month for $200,000 of coverage.
At a rate of $1 per month, the program was expanded during the height of the war in Iraq to include payments for traumatic injuries. Genitourinary injuries have been added to a list of combat injuries for which payments are already made; that list includes amputations, burns, loss of sight, and paralysis.
The addition was immediately praised by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) who had petitioned Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in March to address the issue.
"We owe it to our men and women in uniform and their families who have sacrificed so much to ensure that they get the care and benefits they have earned and deserve," Boxer said Monday.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Marines patrol on foot in Helmand province, Afghanistan, a long-time Taliban stronghold. Credit: Associated Press