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For six years, a new generation of wounded veterans has faced obstacles in receiving medical care and benefits, but solutions are readily achievable. My nephew, Staff Sergeant Ryan Kelly, brought me to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in July 2003. In wheeling Ryan, an amputee from service in Iraq, down Ward 57, I noticed robes partially covering clothing on the other wounded. The clothing seemed like a fraternity prank, as if the wearer had been forced to wear something for weeks. When I asked Ryan what that was all about, he indicated that those were the clothes in which they were wounded. On my return to New York, I called Tommy Hilfiger and asked Guy Vickers at his foundation for 500 pairs of shorts. Tommy and Guy and the members of the board made them available, and I got them to Ryan and the Red Cross at Reed. Ryan called me a few nights later, and said he had been wheeling around the ward, and went into one room with a double amputee. He asked if the guy wanted some shorts. As the guy put on the shorts, he said “Ahhhh, that’s the first time since I was hit that I feel like a human being.” The stories continued and I could observe the poverty on the ward. One soldier with a number of children could not afford to have the family visit from Fort Stewart, Ga. After a number of months, against medical counseling but not orders, he used his travel orders to visit them. The nursing care he expected to have available fell through, and he ended up losing his leg to amputation as a result. Through trial and error, Ryan and I experimented with some of the areas of compensation available to the 9/11 families whom I assisted as a member of Trial Lawyers Care. Using the administration’s terms for those attacking American troops, we sought state crime/terror funds for wounded service members in a number of states. There was, with the exception of Ohio, an institutional reaction against wounded or injured veterans getting access to any state monies. These could be large sums, with more than $100 million annual disbursement in crime/terror victim funds in Texas alone. It is political turf, and those who have the benefit of these funds are not inclined to share. As an alternative to individual state litigation, we came up with the concept of a lump-sum disability rider to the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance that service members paid for with a $1 a month premium. In 2005, Ryan was successful in getting senators Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, to co-sponsor the bill. Since the president signed the legislation that year, more than $160 million has been distributed in lump sums to the seriously wounded and injured under the legislation known as Traumatic Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (TSGLI). The lump sums, between $25,000 and $100,000, are now available in many cases within seven days of the service member’s returning to the United States. With the benefit, we have prevented the immersion of the newly wounded in the immediate poverty bath that those seriously wounded in the early part of the war confronted. (The benefit is retroactive to October 2001.) Introduce a ‘Purple Card’ plan The public exposure of the treatment of the wounded at Walter Reed compels us to offer an additional solution for medical care. Our concept of a new “Purple Card” recognizes that military health care is stretched to the breaking point. The solution is clear. Medicare has opened the doors of almost every top medical provider in the United States to every American of a certain advanced age. The framework is there for us to provide a nationwide welcome mat at the offices of the best medical providers for the seriously wounded or injured service members and the families of those killed in action. All the pieces are in place. We just need to complete it through congressional and presidential action. Our concept of the Purple Card would be the provision of plain vanilla Medicare coverage, without payment of monthly premiums, to any recipient of the TSGLI lump-sum disability; to any Gold Star spouse or any parent of a child of a service member killed in the line of duty or from wounds or injuries received in the line of duty; and to any minor child of a service member killed in the line of duty or from wounds or injuries received in the line of duty. Participation in the Medicare system should require medical providers and hospitals to accept the Purple Card payment as full compensation for the services rendered to this discrete group. Medicare is the last payment stream that retains the faith of American medical professionals while maintaining levels of compensation sufficient to merit their participation. The Medicare system is under attack by an entire industry looking to replace choice for the consumer with profit for private entities and managed care for their customers. The Medicare option for wounded individuals and Gold Star families will be a welcome reminder to the nation that choice in medical care is a privilege, one that we deem important enough to safeguard for those to whom we owe so much. Lawrence E. Kelly is a member of Stony Brook, N.Y.-based Glynn Mercep & Purcell, where he leads the personal injury department.

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