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MILITARY TIGHTENS DISABILITY PENSION RULES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Lieutenant General Ajith Nilakantan, the Commandant of Army Hospital (Research and Referral), emphasizes thorough checks for military disability pensions. The goal is to prevent misuse and uphold the integrity of service benefits. This article provides an overview of recent developments in disability pensions within India’s armed forces, drawing from the media briefing by Comdt AH (R&R) on 25 Jun 2024.

 Introduction

In a significant move to uphold the integrity of military service benefits, Lieutenant General Ajith Nilakantan, commandant of Army Hospital (Research and Referral), has reaffirmed the armed forces’ commitment to a rigorous scrutiny process for disability pension grants. Addressing journalists on Saturday, Nilakantan emphasized that each case undergoes meticulous evaluation by medical boards to ensure strict compliance with established rules….

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Background

Historical Concerns

A decade ago, the military’s senior-most doctor, Lieutenant General BK Chopra, then director general of Armed Forces Medical Services, raised an alarm over a worrying trend. In a 2014 letter to the defence secretary, he highlighted that senior officers nearing retirement were exploiting disability benefits for higher and tax-free pensions. These officers, who maintained the Shape-1 medical category throughout their careers, were presenting themselves with diseases at the end of their service—a clear misuse of welfare measures.

On September 21, 2023, the Indian government put into effect the revised policy titled “Entitlement Rules for Casualty Pension and Disability Compensation Awards to Indian Armed Forces Personnel, 2023.” In addition to this policy update, an accompanying “Guide for Medical Officers” was introduced. The primary objective of this revision was to align armed forces procedures with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2017, ensuring that the rights and entitlements of our brave servicemen and women resonate with national legislation.

Background and Need for Revision

The earlier version of the Entitlement Rules for Casualty Pension and Disability Compensation Awards to Armed Forces Personnel (ER) and the Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions) has undergone revision as it was promulgated in 2008. Since then, the Government of India has introduced several policy initiatives that significantly altered eligibility conditions, entitlements, and compensation rates for those wounded in war, disabled personnel, widows, and Veer Naris (war widows).

To address the evolving landscape and provide clarity, the need arose to consolidate and clarify the existing rules and medical guidelines. This matter was also highlighted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in their report to the Parliament. Consequently, a Study Group, comprising members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, and the Ministry of Defence (Finance), was established. Their task was to thoroughly examine and review all policy provisions related to this critical subject, ensuring fairness and transparency in the treatment of our armed forces personnel.

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Government Action

Prompted by a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which highlighted that nearly 40% of retiring officers and 18% of personnel below officer rank (PBOR) were receiving disability pensions, the government instituted new rules in September 2023. These rules aim to protect those who sustain disabilities in service while preventing potential misuse of provisions.

Chief of Defence Staff’s Assurance

General Anil Chauhan, Chief of Defence Staff, has clarified that these new guidelines are designed to maintain operational efficiency, battle readiness, and overall physical fitness within the armed forces. The revised policy tightens norms for claiming disability pensions without altering entitlements for death or disability compensation or affecting war widows, family pensioners, and veterans’ emoluments.

Financial Implications

Under the disability pension system, the total pension including disability pension can be 20% to 50% higher than a standard pension and remains tax-exempt. This adjustment addresses concerns raised by the CAG regarding lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension influencing pension claims.

Conclusion

The Indian armed forces’ proactive approach in refining the disability pension process reflects a dedication to fairness and accountability. By instituting stringent checks at multiple levels and addressing historical concerns about misuse by senior officers, they ensure that only deserving cases receive benefits—a testament to their unwavering commitment to serving those who have served the nation.

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