Veterans in Ohio and Pennsylvania are near the bottom of the report.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
WASHINGTON -- A key reason the Department of Veterans Affairs offered recently to explain the wide disparity in veterans' monthly disability checks across the country is undercut by the agency's own data.
The data show that on average veterans of the same war receive vastly different payments, depending on where they live.
The VA has struggled for months to explain why veterans in some states receive lower payments than those in others. In releasing a new report on the issue, the agency recently said demographic factors partly explained the state-to-state difference -- saying, for example, that veterans of some wars are far more prevalent in certain states than in others.
But an analysis of VA data shows that veterans of the same war get vastly different payments depending on their state. The average payment for World War II veterans, for example, goes from less than $6,000 a year to more than $13,000, depending on the state.
In Ohio, which ranked 48th in the report, the average disability payment per year for all veterans is $7,039 compared with $6,162 for World War II veterans and $8,890 for Vietnam War vets; in Pennsylvania, which ranked 36th, the average amounts are $7,898 for all veterans, $6,501 for World War II vets and $10,313 for Vietnam vets.
"While they can point to demographics for some of the problems, the real problem comes down to the amount of subjectivity that seems to be favoring veterans in some states," said Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has been battling the VA over the low average payments to Illinois veterans.
At a news conference May 19, VA officials said the differences partly depended on how many veterans of a certain war lived in a certain state and how much that group was paid on average across the country.
The VA pointed to World War II veterans nationwide, who get smaller checks from the agency than veterans of the Vietnam or Korean wars. So, the VA said, a state with a higher-than-average percentage of World War II vets is likely to have lower-than-average veteran payments.
"They have more World War II vets in these low ... states, and that's going to pull down your average payment," said the VA's inspector general, Richard Griffin, as he announced the results of a study on the variation in VA payments. "The VA cannot control where people live."
Illinois vs. New Mexico
But World War II vets in Illinois get far less than their counterparts in New Mexico, the state with the highest average payment, according to VA data. In fact, the gap between Illinois and New Mexico is far wider for World War II veterans than it is for veterans overall.
In Illinois, World War II vets bring home an average of $5,722 a year; in New Mexico, it's $13,558 -- or 137 percent more.
Among veterans of all time periods, the average annual check in Illinois is $6,961; in New Mexico, it's $12,004 -- or 72 percent more.