Military & Aerospace

The Army’s Disability Conundrum
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 Apr , 2024

Scot Hamilton, one of the most recognised figure skaters in the world, won over seventy medals including four World Championships and an Olympic Gold over the span of his career, unfortunately interrupted temporarily by bouts with cancer. His strength of character and willingness to face challenges head-on is best exemplified by his statement that “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.”Words that anyone who has ever suffered, is dealing with or overcome physical or mental challenges will truly appreciate.

The importance of treating military casualties with empathy, fairness, and efficiency is emphasized, as it impacts both operational capabilities and morale.

Ironically, it’s also a phrase that accurately describes the attitude of the Ministry of Defence towards the disabled within the military, and not in a good way. If our post-independence history has highlighted any one thing, then inarguably it is the immense contribution made by the military in nation building and keeping our country safe, stable and relatively prosperous despite being located in one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

Thus, managing death and disability cases amongst our military personnel in a humane, respectful, equitable and efficient manner assumes great importance. Not only is there a grave impact on the operational capabilities of units when casualties occur, but more importantly, the manner in which they are subsequently treated effects morale and motivation, not of the effected personnel or their families, but also those serving.

It is not without reason that as far back as 549 BC the Athenian Statesman and Leader, Solon, directed that “widows, orphans and persons maimed in war be maintained at the public charge”. A practice that is now universally followed the world over. In our context a medical downgrade following a disability attributable/aggravated to service entitles a soldier to better retirement benefits that are tax exempt, compared to their peers earning a normal pension. The difference could be around 225% or so.

One would thus assume, and expect, that any government in power would treat the military’s casualties with a great deal of empathy, understanding and compassion, especially given their immense contribution to our nation’s well-being, security and development.However, such an assumption would be completely wrong.

The new rules, promulgated in September 2023, governing death and disability pensionsare not only wholly arbitrary, unfair and chastising, but also completely at variance from the rules applicable to other Central Government employees, including those civilians paid from the defence budget. These rules have in fact reduced the affected military personnel to second class citizens.

Discrepancies in disability pension rules for military personnel compared to civilian counterparts are highlighted, portraying a lack of empathy and fairness.


The motivation behind these drastic stepcan be traced back to a letter written by the then Director General Armed Forces Medical Services to the Defence Secretary in 2014. In it he expressed deep concern of “an alarming trend evolving in the services, with regards to claims for disability pension being preferred by senior officers of the rank of lieutenant general and major general and their equivalent. These senior officers, who have stayed in Shape-1 medical category throughout their career, suddenly present themselves with disease at the fag end of their service.”While no specific individuals were named or any disciplinary action initiated, reportedly procedures were suitably amended to avoid any further misuse by senior officers.

However, in addition the 7th Pay Commission unfairly recommended differing methodology for calculating the quantum of disability element that military personnel would be authorised vis-à-vis their civilian counterparts, the gap being between 10-50% in favour of the civilians.

A soldier, for example, diagnosed with hypertension following tenures in High Altitude Areas or Siachen or in active Counter Insurgency operations would receive less disability pension than his counterpart civilian with the same diagnosis and percentage of disability who may have only spent serving in Delhi! This was not only unfair to the soldier but also a regressive measure because it was only in the 6th(??) Pay Commission that this anomaly had been finally corrected.

The fact that this change was recommended without any reasons being attributed, and accepted by the government in power at the time, suggests deeply entrenched bias within the bureaucracy and political establishment against our military. The senior military leadership having already been caught out were hardly in a position to object.

The matter however did not end there as subsequently, the Comptroller and Auditor General also arbitrarily undertook a study on the issue ofdisability pensions disbursed to army personnel who were discharged from service between 2015-16 and 2019-20. It found that almost 40% of officers, and 18% of personnel below officer rank (PBOR) who retire every year are drawing disability pensions. 

Changes in disability pension rules, arbitrarily reducing benefits for military personnel, are criticized for being punitive and unfair.

Amongst the army officers who were granted disability pensions, the percentage of those from the medical wing was significantly higher. It also flagged concerns that 22% and 13% of the disability pensions granted to officers and PBORs, respectively, were exclusively on the grounds of lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension.

Obviously, amongst officers more would be effected by disability given the fact that the average age for superannuation would be 55 plus years. In respect of Personnel Below Officer’s Rank (PBOR) this would probably be around 40 years or so. As regards the issue of ‘Lifestyle diseases’, the attempt appears to have been to point fingers at the affected individuals, as most of us tend to do, and suggest it is their own fault given their poor lifestyle choices such as lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating, alcohol, drugs and smoking” that can result in diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, obesity, hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes etc.

While there are those in whose case this may well be true, despite regular annual physical and medical checks that soldiers must compulsorily undergo, it remains a very superficial manner of looking at the subject.

The International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine & Public Health, for example states that they are “a result of a combination of factors including genetics, physiology, environment and behaviours”.In this context the Government of India’s, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Notification dated 30th January 2023 in Schedule I gives out a comprehensive list of diseases which can be contracted in service (pages 65-67) as follows:

  • Diseases affected by climatic conditions such as Pulmonary Tuberculosis and sixteen other conditions.
  • Diseases that are endemic in nature such as Malaria and other viruses such as Swine Flu etc.
  • Pandemics, such as Covid 19 when declared as such by the Government.
  • Diseases affected by stress and strain such as Psychosis, Hypertension, Cardio-related diseases and ten others.
  • Diseases affected by dietary compulsions such as Gastritis, Infective Hepatitis and five others.
  • Diseases affected by training and marching such as Hernia and Varicose Veins and six others.
  • Environmental diseases contracted due to handling of poisonous chemicals and radiation equipment etc.

Instances of bias against military personnel, as evidenced by changes in disability pension calculations and terminology, are outlined, suggesting systemic issues within the bureaucracy and political establishment.

This clearly suggests all personnel disabled due to so-called “lifestyle diseases” may not have contracted those diseases because of their unhealthy choices, but because of other causative factors. These factors could well be protracted tenures in difficult areas, non-availability of rations and fruits and vegetables for a balanced diet, excessive stress and strain due to operational deployment and a myriad other reasons.

The question that arises is why was this study just restricted to data from two years and as to why civilian government employees were left out of its orbit? If nothing else that confirms the their pre-mediated bias against the military. However, in its defence it must be stated that the CAG in March 2023 only went on to ask the Ministry of Defence to “ensure that complete database with all relevant information is maintained to carry out an analysis of the main reasons of disability, including lifestyle diseases among the defence forces, for possible corrective action.”

The Ministry of Defence responded with alacrity and poste-haste within just six months, issued “The Entitlement Rules For Casualty Pension and Disability Compensation Awards to Armed Forces Personnel, 2023.”Whether this document is based on a detailed study of the issue is unclear, rather unlikely, as six months is hardly sufficient for gathering empirical data for such a complex study to be completed.

Clearly these rules are punitive in nature. What was evident is the fact that the top echelons of the military were complicit in this. The Headquarters IDS defended the new rules stating “Earlier there were incentives to claim disability pension. There was a time when only 3-5% claimed this pension but the CAG report now puts the figure at 40%.So many people can’t be disabled. These rules have been revised to streamline the procedure for assessment and entitlement without any ambiguity to avoid litigation. The revised policy will not put armed forces personnel at a disadvantage vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts”.


While wars are hardly routine occurrences, preparations within the military to fight one andto defend our territorial integrity are ongoing on a daily basis, bringing with it their own set of challenges.Let alone those disabled by disease, even our war wounded have been given a rough deal. For one, unlike Central Government civilian employees, the military,for operational reasons,is understandably not covered by the provisions of Section 20 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. This comprehensive Act ensures that civilian government employees cannot be discriminated against because of their disability with regard to retention, promotion etc.

The mistreatment of soldiers and veterans could have severe consequences for morale and recruitment, posing a threat to national security in the long term.

Thus, not only are the military already at a disadvantage with regard to quantum of disability compensation and the conditions governing their retention in service, but now we have new rules that are at complete variance to those applicable to civilian to Central Government employees. Take the use of terminology for instance. While in the case of Central Government Employees, which includes the CAPFs, those disabled and classified as attributable/ aggravated under Categories B, C &D, either invalidated out or volunteering to leave service, are eligible to receive Disability Pension. This pension includes a Service Element and a Disability Element which will be broad-banded as per rules to not less than 50%.

However, in the case of defence personnel, Disability Pension is now only applicable to those invalidated out with not less than 20% disability. All other disabled and treated as attributable/aggravated, with not less than 20% disability, will receive ‘Impairment Relief’, ‘Liberalised Impairment Relief’ or ‘War Injury Relief’, based on categorisation, instead.

Despite the Ministry’s claim that the change in nomenclature does not affect the nature of entitlement or quantum of emoluments, the truth is that while Disability Element counts as pension, all types of Impairment Relief are not treated as pension. They cease when the individual is deceased, thereby adversely impacting the quantum of family pension authorised to his/her next of kin.

This change in terminology has also been undertaken for another more devious reason. Under Section 10 (14) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 the entire disability pension of military personnel is exempt from income tax. In 2019 after a ruling by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) this exemption was arbitrarily removed and made applicable only to those defence personnel invalided out of service. However following a public outcry this initiative has been held in abeyance by the government.

In addition various courts have also ruled in favour of those disabled in this regard. Obviously, subtly changing of terminology has been done with the intention to surreptitiously reintroduce the earlier initiative without any backlash.

In the case of civilian central government employees, the rules clearly state the disablement shall be reckoned as due to the Government service, if it is certified that the same is due to wound, injury or disease, whichis attributable to Government service or existed before or arose during the Government service and has aggravated thereby.Conditions for attributability to government service are laid down in Schedule IV of the said rules (Pg70) and state that “in deciding on the issue of entitlement, all the evidence (both direct and circumstantial) will be taken into account and the benefit of reasonable doubt will be given to the claimant. This benefit shall be given more liberally to the claimant in field service cases”.

There’s a call for standardizing rules across all government sectors to ensure fairness and equality for military personnel, highlighting the need for a genuine attempt to support disabled individuals without punitive measures.

As for arriving at percentage of disability, a medical board is constituted that includes a specialist. While percentages are laid down in Schedule II with regard to injuries, for diseases, with a few exceptions, is left to the Medical Board to decide.

With regard to the military however, the attitude taken towards deciding the issue of attributability/aggravationis completely different. As the new Rules note “for acceptance of a disease as attributable two conditions must be satisfied that the disease has arisen during the period of military service and that the disease has been caused by conditions of employment in military service like active operations, high altitude, extreme cold/ hot, extreme physical exertions and other specified exposures…”.

This implies that if this diseases occur over time after an individual’s tenure in such specified areas may have been over, they will not be accepted as attributable. What is far more heinous is that unlike in the case Medical Boards considering cases of civilian employees, the military medical boards are required to fix disability percentages in accordance with what is specified in the Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions) -2023. In this regard they have no latitude in the matter to decide on cases that may have their own peculiarities.


Only a superficial examination of issues has been undertaken. It is evident that a more comprehensive and detailed examination will bring out many more anomalies. Nobody can have an issue with a genuine attempt to fine-tune how we treat our disabled, provided the intention is not punitive and aimed at helping the genuinely disabled. Nobody can also have an issue if the prevalent rules are standardised and applicable to all central government employees, regardless of whether they belong to the military, railways or otherwise. The problem arises when a particular institution, in this case the military, is selected for harsher treatment.

The mistreatment of soldiers will certainly have grave consequences in the coming years, if the anomaly is not corrected.

The question that arises, therefore, is why are only military personnel being subjected to such biased, arbitrary and unfair treatment? The complications that further arise with the introduction of the Agnipath Scheme, have not even been touched on. It seems that the government is intent on making the noble profession of arms, into just another avenue for employment. Its mistreatment of soldiers will certainly have grave consequences in the coming years, if the anomaly is not corrected.

Anyone who does not believe that is living in a fool’s paradise. Finally, just as a matter of interest, one would ask the Ministry of Defence as to what corrective action has it instituted with regard to the CAG Report released in 2023 that found over 21000 military pensioners have been underpaid to a tune of over Rs 100 Crores, due to mismanagement and erroneous actions of the Comptroller General Defence Accounts? Nothing in all likelihood.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a Military Veteran and was formerly with the ORF, and now is member of The Peninsula Foundation, a Chennai based Think-Tank.

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13 thoughts on “The Army’s Disability Conundrum

  1. After the National Security Advisor and CDS have come in service and are in power; the armed forces and its veterans have lost their home ground battle to hidden controlling auth [ mostly civilians and bureaucrats ] and are mere puppets.
    The Indian Army is subject to mean degradation ever since then.
    The nation may lose a war due to its downgrading the Armed Forces and will pay the acute debilitating penalty.

    We can only hope the present PM can see the default line and rectify before serious damage takes place.

    I am ancient museum piece trained by Gens Cariappa and Manekshaw era.. I pity and feel the pinch and gravity of situation now faced by present crop of armed forces personnel.


  2. Good morning heroes, disability is like sharp 🪒 serving twin purpose for officers who volunteered for national glory but unfortunately ended up with disability ..But those who fictitiously join the list in connivance is a matter of grt concern because army 🪖 is life of character and values. These should be dealt as cheats just to evade income tax I suppose.

  3. Sur you misleading the environment and you are factually incorrect, as also your interpretation of the entire issue is wrong ..when u write an article pl do the due diligence before you put forth your views .The article is at best your personal point of view is no where even close to being correct

  4. A fighter pilot who sustains injury while ejection and gets grounded from flying duties has to be considered as invalided. But as per new CBDT circular of 2019, but will not get IT exemption on disability pension. The matter rests on interpretation of invalid ENT from service. My view is that interpretation that has been held over a century cannot be reversed by Government. This is the bone of contention before the Apex Court.

  5. Well researched and analysed. Not giving due disability pension to one deserving case in order to avoid giving disability to four undeserving cases is a bigger shame. Then there are issues like: why group insurance of Army Navy and Air Force do not cover for a more comprehensive disability pension and compensation. Afterall the Indian soldier pays for his own life insurance. In the past, several govts have claimed to increase in the insurance cover amount where actually the soldier pays the higher premium.
    ….so an ongoing saga of apathy towards soldiers continues. Do away with bravery awards too. The case of not paying the claims for technical reasons are on the rise now and they also degrade the valour and recognition awarded to the soldiers.
    For those who disagree, just ask what gap was attempted to be fulfilled by creating SPARSH ? Who and how many problems in the earlier system were sought to be. answered ?
    It all looks like a complex web but the pattern is so obvious, it leaves no doubts of what the author has analysed in such details

  6. The biased, arbitrary and unfair attitude and treatment that the military personnel for disablement during military service is bound to show the affects on the morale of troops in the very first conflict or war against the enemy country whenever it occurs. It’s just a question of time and the clock is ticking very fast towards that where the country will have to pay a very happy price for such attitude and treatment to its defence personnel.

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