Sunday, May 8, 2011

Disabled War Veterans - A Forgotten Tribe

Status of War Wounded and Widows a year ago!
02 Apr 2010 8ak: As the supreme court severely criticised the government for a 'beggarly' Rs 1,000 per month pension for a soldier disabled while on duty (read Sify article) 8ak spoke to Col H.N Handa from DIWAVE about the plight of our brave soldiers disabled in the line-of-duty.

Col H.N. Handa: War creates families of dead soldiers normally associated as War Widows. However it also causes immense life long suffering to those wounded as a consequence. Wounded within a few years of joining the forces, generally in the age group 17-24, in the prime of their youth. These wounded can be classified as orthopedically wounded (a majority), blinded or paralyzed.

A soldier sacrifices his life or limbs without rancor for many reasons - national honor, pride in his regime, a high level of motivation and above all, the understanding that the nation will look after his next of kin if he meets his death on the battlefield or is disabled. He goes out fearlessly to fight aggression of any type, as he is trained to, self-assured and confident. Without this knowledge, a soldier would not be able to render his best.

Sadly, at present he sees that the care is seriously lacking for the war disabled or families of those killed in action. It is unbelievable that the Ministry of Defence has no record or database of the existing Disabled War Veteran - their names, degree of disability or their whereabouts. The reason advanced for this is that welfare of ex-servicemen is a state subject. This indifferent approach has made it difficult to adopt fresh welfare measures for the Disabled War Veterans, many of whom badly need immediate care, but are unable to receive it. Caring for the war disabled by the Central Government will reassure the soldiers of a secure future while going about their stressful duties. The number of such war disabled is rather small, estimated by the Ministry of Defence as a mere 10,000 out of which 97% are Persons Below Officers Rank (PBOR).

First praised sky high and showered with promises ‘…then subjected to indifference and boarded out'…finally made to suffer callous negligence. That precisely sums up the lives of our brave soldiers and officers who were wounded in action, defending the country and its people in numerous wars and army actions prior to Kargil from 1962, 1965, 1971. Para military forces receive ex-gratia grants in addition but none for these War Disabled.

Assurances were given as is evident from the MOD letter 200847/71/Pen-C dated 24 Feb 1972 indicating that service element of pension of an invalided out war veteran will be equal in amount to the normal retiring pension including-Death-Cum-Retirement gratuity to which an individual would have been entitled on the basis of his emoluments and DA for maximum service of the rank at time of disablement. War disabled would be deemed to have served his full service of the rank of disability. This has been whittled down over the years.

War Injury Element/ Disability Element of the pension is a monetary compensation for the physical and mental suffering undergone and continued to be undergone by the War Injured/ Disabled Ex-servicemen. Justice and fair play warrants equal compensation, irrespective of the date of injury/ invalidment, as has been done in the case of Constant Attendance Allowance.

A Disabled War Veteran needs, above all, to live with dignity and pride which can only be achieved if he has financial security.

To assist the Disabled War Veterans, whose very strength is unknown due to lack of a database, the Disabled War Veterans India, (DIWAVE) a voluntary organization working to rehabilitate the war wounded, was founded in 1978 by Capt N.K. Mahajan, Major Vijay Kumar, Major Ahluwalia of Everest fame and many others. It is a registered organization under the Registration of Societies Act and recognized by Ministry of Defence, Government of India. A non-political, not-for-profit, democratic, secular and voluntary body of committed people. It is solely dependent on the subscription of its members (kept deliberately low) and donations to sustain itself. The present President, Capt N.K. Mahajan, himself is 100% disabled of the 1971 war, pulled out of a heap of dead bodies as someone saw his arm twitching. The Senior Vice President is Col H.N. Handa, 75% War Disabled of 1965 War and currently the oldest war wounded.

For the war disabled ex-servicemen, the 6th CPC has recommended that the War Injury element of the War Injury Pension be linked with reckonable emoluments. MOD has accordingly sanctioned 100% of reckonable emoluments for 100% disability. However, this benefit has been restricted to post-2006 war disabled ex-servicemen only. Pre-2006 have been given only marginal fixed increase over the amount sanctioned. Civilian government employees continue to receive disability element based on percentage but this disparity has been accorded defence personnel only.

The CPC, while recommending the percentage-wise linkage between the reckonable emoluments and disability/war injury element of the pension, has nowhere stated that it should apply to future disabled ex-servicemen only. In the case of service pension, the 6th CPC clearly stated that for pre-2006 pensioners, modified parity would apply. However such a stipulation does not exist for Disability/War injury pension, with the implication that the new formula of percentage linkage with last drawn pay would equally apply to all Disabled War Veterans, including pre-2006. It is noteworthy that while implementing the 5th CPC recommendations on the disability element, no discrimination was done between pre-1996 and post-1996 disabled ex-servicemen.

The 5th Pay Commission subsequently stipulated that the War Injury Pension comprising service element plus disability element should not exceed the basic pay of the rank at the time of injury thereby denying the disabled their entitlement to the extent of up to 50%. Sensibly, the Government has recently recommended the removal of this restriction.

A further discrimination was introduced in broad-banding of disability percentage into 3 slabs - 50%, 75% and 100%. MOD had done this for post-1996 disability cases, denying similar benefit to all pre-1996 cases, creating thereby another situation of denial of OROP. This relates to persons with same amount of disability receiving different percentages of disability element. As a result of DIWAVE’s representation , the Government has decided to eliminate this disparity. The government orders are still awaited.

One very important aspect is the supply of modern, light and durable prosthesis to Disabled War Veterans, -An issue which even the 6th Pay Commission has taken cognisance of - near their place of residence. Currently, all prosthetic fittings for war-disabled are provided by the Artificial Limb Centre, Pune, which provides archaic limbs with outdated technology to the disabled. Also, ALC takes unduly long for limb-fitting. Disabled ex-servicemen often have to travel long distances to reach Pune and have to remain in hospital for several weeks.

The situation can be remedied by empanelling private prosthetic centres that provide modern prostheses like Ottobock, Endolite etc. in metropolitan cities and state capitals on the same lines as for other major ailments. This would result in better quality limbs with less waiting period, without entailing long travels and cost of hospitalisation etc. The arrangement is likely to be overall cost effective, ensuring better user satisfaction. Needless to add, fitting of good prosthesis helps the disabled to accept his disability better.

Ailments such as angiography, angioplasty, hip and knee replacements, cancer treatment etc are undertaken for the retired and serving government employees by empanelled private hospitals. However, a properly fitting modern prosthesis has so far been denied to the Disabled war Veterans.

There is also a need to issue Special Identity Cards for Disabled War Veterans, clearly identifying them as such. This would enable the MOD to develop the correct databank thereby make it possible to provide better welfare measures and facilities to them. Special attention and courtesies extended to the Disabled War Veterans in government offices, official dealings etc. at district and lower levels in particular, would help in enhancing their self-esteem and dignity and would also act as a morale-booster to serving soldiers.
Disabled War Veterans - A Forgotten Tribe!
8ak stands for "8 Arms of Knowledge" and comes from the 'spider' that was written to trawl the net for news. 8ak also publishes an e-newspaper for the Defence (Defense) Sector and produces specific reports to cover all military/ armed forces issues relevant to India.
... click here to read Gen Vijay Oberoi's article on war wounded

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