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Centre to raise veteran soldiers’ benefits

New Delhi, Dec. 18: The defence ministry will hike the post-retirement benefits of veteran soldiers from January, nearly three months after the cabinet set aside Rs 2,300 crore for the purpose.

Union defence minister A.K. Antony told the consultative committee attached to his ministry that “improving the pensionary and medical benefits for ex-servicemen are subjects of prime concern” and that orders hiking pensions will be issued next month.

The cabinet decided to hike the benefits after veteran soldiers demanded “one rank one pension” in September in a sop that barely pleased the ex-servicemen.

The benefits will go to commissioned officers who have served for 20 years and to personnel below officer rank (PBOR) who have served in the military for at least 15 years.

An estimated 14 lakh veterans and their families will benefit.

The benefit would translate into a hike of between Rs 350 to Rs 500 per month for each soldier who was PBOR and between Rs 1,400 to Rs 4,000 for every retired officer.

Antony told the consultative committee that this was the third time in four years that the government has hiked post-retirement benefits for veteran soldiers.

He said the government was also simplifying access to medical care by opening more clinics through the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme that was begun in April 2003.

There are nearly 41 lakh people who access the ECHS -- about 13 lakh ex-servicemen and over 28 lakh dependents.

ECHS currently covers 339 districts. Members of the consultative committee urged Antony to extend the scheme to veterans in all 659 districts. They said there was a shortage of staff and medicines in the ECHS clinics.