In the middle of a battle in Fallujah in April 2004, an M80 grenade landed a foot away from Fred Ball. The blast threw the 26-year-old Marine sergeant 10 feet into the air and sent a piece of hot shrapnel into his right temple. Once his wound was patched up, Ball insisted on rejoining his men. For the next three months, he continued to go on raids, then returned to Camp Pendleton, Calif.
But Ball was not all right. Military doctors concluded that Ball was suffering from a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic headaches, and balance problems.
In January of last year, the Marine Corps found him unfit for duty but not disabled enough to receive full permanent disability retirement benefits and discharged him.
Ball’s situation has taken a dire turn for the worse. The tremors that he experienced after the blast are back, he can hardly walk, and he has trouble using a pencil or a fork.
He works 16-hour shifts at a packing-crate plant near his home in East Wenatchee, Wash., but he has gone into debt to cover his $1,600 monthly mortgage and support his wife and 2-month-old son. “Life is coming down around me,” Ball says. Trained to be strong and self-sufficient, Ball now speaks in tones of audible pain.
Now an extensive investigation by U.S. News and a new Army inspector general’s report reveal that the system is beset by ambiguity and riddled with discrepancies. Indeed, Department of Defense data examined by U.S. News and military experts show that the vast majority-nearly 93 percent-of disabled troops are receiving low ratings, and more have been graded similarly in recent years.
What’s more, ground troops, who suffer the most combat injuries from the ubiquitous roadside bombs, have received the lowest ratings.
· Summarized of U.S. News / World Report, April 16, 2007