Lawmakers are trying to pass a bill that would create a disability insurance benefit of up to $100,000 for soldiers and other servicemembers who suffer severely disabling traumatic injuries.[@@]

The bill, S. 806, would provide the special benefits for servicemembers who suffer total and permanent loss of sight, loss of hands or feet or loss of speech.

The benefits also would be available to servicemembers who suffer quadriplegia, paraplegia, severe burns or certain traumatic brain injuries, according to the text of the bill.

The bill would provide the coverage by adding a disability insurance rider to servicemembers’ standard group life insurance policy.

The rider would cost about $1 per month.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has introduced the bill in the Senate.

The White House has endorsed the bill, and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the new disability benefit program will cost only about $10 million per year, Craig said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor.

Craig said he got the idea for the bill from the veterans groups and that Ryan Kelly, a veteran who lost his leg during an ambush near Baghdad, was the principal author of the draft of the bill.

“It is widely known that due to the incredible advances in medicine, servicemembers who may not have survived life-threatening injuries in previous wars are now making it back home alive from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Craig said. “That is the good news. The bad news, however, is that they must live with injuries that may have left them without their limbs, sight, hearing, or speech ability, or even more. All of my colleagues have likely met these brave young men and women in their home visits or right here in Washington, D.C., at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

Servicemembers have an acute need for cash during the rehabilitation period, while they are waiting for other benefits to kick in, Craig said.

Many members of the Guard and Reserve suffered a severe drop in income when they entered active service, and long recovery periods add to their financial stress, Craig said.

“In addition,” Craig said, “family members of injured soldiers bear the burdens necessary to travel from great distances to provide the love and emotional support that is absolutely essential for any successful rehabilitation. Spouses quit jobs to spend time with their husbands at the hospital, or husbands quit jobs to spend time with their wives. Parents spare no expense to be with their injured children.”

Spending $10 million per year to provide an immediate cash benefit would be a small price pay to meet the needs of seriously injured servicemembers, Craig said.

Links to the text of S. 806 and other information about the bill are on the Web at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.00806::