How soldiers can receive workers’ compensation for injuries in the line of duty
There are hundreds of thousands of active-duty servicemen and women in the state of Georgia serving across the 13 military bases. As with any job, accidents can happen while serving in the military.
Workers’ compensation is a program to compensate workers who are injured during the course of their employment. For a civilian, this typically means that the injury has to have occurred at their work or in direct relation to their job duties.
However, the logistics of workers’ compensation are very different for active-duty military members. The main difference is that active-duty military members are technically on call around the clock. Thus, even if you are “off-duty,” an injury can still be said to have occurred during an active-duty period.
What are the most common military job-related injuries?
Because a soldier injury can be considered “on-duty” regardless of how or when it occurred, the range of injuries suffered by military personnel can be almost anything. An injury can occur whether you are on leave, traveling to base, at home, or on base. Thus, whether your accident stems from a specific duty assigned by your commanding officer, or it simply occurred while exercising, driving or any other activity, you may still be eligible for benefits.
Quite simply, soldiers are considered on active duty until the moment they are no longer enlisted. The only exception to be this broad applicability is military members who are absent without leave (AWOL). If you violated orders and are absent from your assigned location, you are considered to have abandoned your position and are unlikely to be eligible for any benefits stemming from an injury.
How to apply for military injury compensation
Applying for compensation for an injury as a soldier or military service member is a relatively straightforward process. To receive benefits, you must submit proof to the Veterans Benefits Administration that an accident occurred which resulted in an injury. There are numerous ways to do this, depending on the type of accident you suffered.
For example, if you were involved in a car accident or other incident where a police report was created, submitting the police report is typically sufficient to show proof of the injury. If no such report was created, you may be required to rely on witnesses or the testimony of individuals who observed the accident occur. However, relying on witness testimony often requires more review by the authorities and can thus delay the process.
The best proof of injury is generally medical records. If your injury was sufficient to warrant a trip to the hospital or your doctor, then submitting the records of that visit and the doctor’s findings will generally satisfy the requirements for receiving compensation.
However, it should be noted that an active-duty serviceperson can generally only recover for longer-term injuries. Thus, if the reports indicate that the injury was short-term or extremely minor, benefits may not be available. In no way should this deter you from seeking the opinion and advice of a medical professional. Even for seemingly minor injuries, it is always best to have a professional examination and obtain official copies of any findings they may have.
Types of compensation available for injured soldiers
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, “VA disability compensation provides monthly benefits to Veterans in recognition of the effects of disabilities, diseases, or injuries incurred or aggravated during active military service.”
The VA has 3 programs that offer financial assistance to injured military members:
Under this program, soldiers can receive tax-free financial benefits if they are disabled from an injury or disease that is caused or aggravated during active duty. The amount of this compensation is rated on a scale of disability, from 10 percent to 100 percent.
The purpose of the DIC program is generally to provide tax-free compensation to surviving spouses, children, or parents of deceased service members. This income-based benefit program provides reimbursement to dependents of a military member who died while on active duty or training.
The SMC program provides tax-free benefits that can be paid to veterans, their spouses, or their parents for special circumstances. Special circumstances can include the need for additional treatment or care due to a disability or amputation.
When to report an injury
Whether you should report an injury and attempt to get compensation depends on the type of injury and how it occurred. Generally, you should report any injury that was acquired by an innocent mistake. However, there is a different standard for injuries that occurred due to willful misconduct. If an investigation shows that you were injured due to your own misconduct, your application for compensation will be denied.
There are a few situations that can lead to a finding of willful misconduct. The most common cause of misconduct is when an accident was caused by the use of drugs or alcohol. If you were under the influence of a substance and were injured as a result, you will generally not be entitled to compensation. However, there are some exceptions.
If you were injured while using drugs or alcohol, but the circumstances and evidence make it exceptionally clear that your intoxication was not the proximate cause of your injuries, you may still be able to recover benefits. This will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and the burden of proof is upon the party seeking benefits.
Further, injuries that stem from an extreme deviation from what a reasonable person would consider an acceptable risk may also be denied benefits. Activities such as extreme sports or excessive risk-taking are often considered outside of the line of reasonable conduct for enlisted parties and thus are not protected by workers’ compensation.
What to do if you’re injured on active duty
If you have been injured and suspect you may be eligible for compensation from the military, there are a few key steps to take.
First, it is important to document your accident as accurately and fully as possible. This can include keeping a detailed account of the cause and ongoing symptoms of your injury, seeking ongoing medical care, and properly filing the necessary reports.
Further, it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of a legal professional who is familiar with this area of law. Workers’ compensation is a highly nuanced area of regulation, and there may be factors and requirements that you would not normally consider. Seeking the advice of a professional can greatly increase your chances of a successful claim.