Veteran Disability Determination Changes Recommended

Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes

Recommendation P-1:

 Develop a Joint Process for Disability Determinations

Agencies Responsible for Action: Defense and Veterans Affairs

Lead Agency: Defense
Recommendation: VA and DoD develop a joint process for disability determinations

Background: The Disability Evaluation System (DES) is the mechanism for implementing retirement or separation due to physical disability. There are four elements of DES: physical evaluation, medical evaluation, counseling, and final disposition. The DES physical evaluation has two major components: the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB).

VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) is codified in statute and serves as a guide for the evaluation of disabilities resulting from diseases or injuries incident to military service. There are evaluation criteria for each condition listed, with disability levels ranging between zero and 100 percent, generally at 10 percent increments, as appropriate to the severity of the condition. The disability rating level is linked to a monetary amount determined by Congress.

In a December 1988 report, the then General Accounting Office said there had been no comprehensive review of the VA rating schedule since 1945, that the rating schedule contained outdated terminology and ambiguous classifications, and had not incorporated recent medical advances. The report recommended that VA thoroughly review the schedule and establish a process for an ongoing evaluation and update. VA agreed to do so and has been conducting a comprehensive revision of the schedule ever since. VA published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for each of the 15 rating schedule body systems and contracted with an outside consultant, who gathered panels of medical experts for each system, to recommend changes in the rating schedule. Eleven of the 15 body systems contained in the schedule have been revised to date.

While both DoD and VA use the VASRD, not all the general policy provisions set forth in the VASRD apply to the military. Consequently, disability ratings may vary between the two. DoD rates conditions determined to be physically unfitting, compensating for a military career cut short. VA rates all service-connected impairments, combinations of impairments, or service-aggravated conditions, thus compensating for loss of earnings capacity resulting from injuries that could impact civilian employability. Another difference is the term of the rating. DoD’s ratings are permanent upon final disposition. VA’s ratings may change over time, depending upon the progress of the condition(s).

Further, DoD disability compensation is affected by years of service and basic pay; VA compensation is a flat amount based upon the percentage disability rating with possible variance related to number of dependents. Appendix C contains charts depicting the DoD and VA disability processes.  (NOTE from Oldtimer: I’ve already published these charts in earlier posts)

Gap Analysis: For DoD, the terms “permanent and stable” are used extensively in Title 10 but are not clearly defined. These words are the basis for important decisions to retire, separate, and temporarily retire servicemembers. The terms require uniform definition to facilitate consistency and fairness. Many medical and disability authorities have questioned the use of a disability retirement threshold. Historically, the disability retirement threshold stems from “A Report and Recommendation for the Secretary of Defense by the Advisory Commission on Service Pay” (December 1948). The historical record discussion associated with Recommendation 27 (Disability Retirement: Officers, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted Personnel), states:

“Therefore, the standards of disability as used by the Veterans Administration [later became Department of Veterans Affairs], which are civilian standards, are recommended for classification of disability cases into those which may be considered real disability warranting continuing monetary benefits and minor disability not warranting such benefits”.

Congress ultimately incorporated the recommendation in the Career Compensation Act of 1949. Logically, the disability retirement threshold creates an adversarial situation within the DES, when the DES is primarily charged with deciding fit/unfit status.

Servicemembers obviously endeavor to reach the threshold because it results in lifelong benefits such as health care, commissary/exchange privileges, etc., as well as annuity payments. This contributes to tension in the process, adds to servicemember discontent in a system that places the burden of proof on the servicemember who, in many cases, does not have the experience or knowledge, despite assistance, to build a proper case. Additionally, a major challenge is navigating the confusing, inconsistent, and patchwork laws associated with DES. This has resulted in the service branches being inconsistent at times with each other in determining fitness/unfitness and the level of disability.

For VA, examinations performed by DoD for purposes of determining fitness for continued service are generally not adequate for application of the VASRD in determining, for VA disability compensation purposes, the average impairment in earning capacity resulting from all disabilities or diseases incurred in, or aggravated by, service. Unless participating in the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program, VA must wait until a servicemember is discharged and files a claim before obtaining service medical records, including any MEB/PEB proceedings, prior to determining if additional examinations are needed. This contributes to the lengthy claims process faced by veterans.

How the Recommendation Addresses the Gap: The development of a joint process whereby VA and DoD cooperate in the assignment of a disability evaluation that would be used in determining fitness for retention, level of disability for military retirement, and VA disability compensation would result in less discontent among servicemembers who believe they are assigned lower disability evaluations by DoD than by VA. This would also help VA provide better service to newly separated veterans by completing their claims in a timelier manner. There are, potentially, a number of provisions that could be undertaken to effect this recommendation, including providing Benefits Delivery at Discharge type service to those servicemembers undergoing the MEB/PEB process.

The impact of implementing this recommendation will be significant. In the near term, having DoD and VA work together to improve the VA disability claims process and the DoD MEB/PEB disability process should provide improvement across the services in consistency of decisions. In the longer term, having full cooperation in the disability claims process should provide improved service to servicemembers and veterans at a lower cost to the Government through increased efficiencies.

Implementation Action and Target Date:
Develop an in-depth plan for VA/DoD collaboration in the MEB/PEB process: Using the present interagency process provided by the Benefits and Joint Executive Committees (BEC and JEC), DoD and VA will develop options presented to leadership in both VA and DoD for review.

Target Date: Begun April 3, 2007;

VA to participate in Advisory Council meeting on May 3, 2007.

Note:  All highlights and bold type are Oldtimer’s – I hope it is not distracting from the report.  This is one recommendation in the Report to the President.  There are a total of 15 recommendations concering veterans.  You can find them all here

5 responses to “Veteran Disability Determination Changes Recommended

  1. Dear Old Timer:

    I am a Veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. I was diagnosed in 2001 with Prostate Cancer. My lifestyle subsequent to military service has been extremly pristine. I am an avowed health nut. Diet, Exercise ,Spirutality etc; have been a practice since College and I was 27 years old.
    I am now 62.

    I applied to the Veterans Adminstration for disability payments. They have been denied, denied and denied, and sent to Appeals which seems to be the hopper many cases are placed in to delay, if not outright deny payment.

    I have researched extensively including a stint with the Air Force Research Service. As a crew chief on a C-130E, I was in and out of Vietnam countless times, including one 30 day TDY at Cam Rahn Bay. The problem, none of it is in the record! So I set about studying some of the Veterans sites on the net and asking questions.

    I may have uncovered a National scandle of a magnitude that will make the stolen Lap Top and the potential Identity issues pale by comparison.

    I have provided the VA photos and affidavits to justify this application for benefits. They are unmoved. Here’s where it gets dicy. In the AFRS
    information provided to me is a meorandum from Lt. Col. Eugene Hurst, to the 315th Air Division dated March 31, 1966. The gist of the memo is the Inequities being accorded Troop Carrier personnel who are serving in Vietnam or flying daily missions with only 15 to 19 hours gaps between missions. In short we were not being credited with the service, hence it was not going into our records. Now the VA says no record no benefits. I have so far talked to tens of veterans and NONE have any hint of this service in their record. I have concluded the only thing one might deduce from this; the Air Force put us in harm’s way but did so “Off the Books”. Our service was not recorded at all. So those of us suffering from Cancer and a host of diseases are denied benefits based on a policy that seems to have been carried out without being adopted as a written policy. This could affect thousands of Veterans. The VA handling of cases is harsh enough without such a scandle, this makes it worse. I am sure the VA is aware of its untenable position regarding the records fiasco. I am searching for Veterans who weres imilarly treated.

  2. Let’s face it, it’s the government… losing records is what they do.

  3. I am a crew cheif of a C-130 served in vietnam from cck, was in DaNang in rocket attack, flew troops into Tan Son Nhut while under arrack, was at Tuy Hoa when it came under attack, any way VA is treating me for PTSD and a private doc says i have it but they claim they have know record of my flys in vietnam at those times can you help me please.

  4. Went to Tachikawa December 20th 1965, joined the 776 and then the 314 OMS as an assistant crew chief at CCK. Flew several missions to VN and much like you no records on the USG side. I am trying to locate Norman Moss who was one that flew many a mission into VN. The term ‘short burst” applies to our not having orders and ‘no-record’. Everything was moving fast as I recall and paperwork wasn’t all that important at the time.

  5. oh my my! there ya go.Gotta write my Book. What ashame. Then some! MO ta come, we,ve only just bgun ta hear the attrocities,Damn! thx just learned of ur site. KEEPONKEEPN THE GOOD WORK!!!!!!!!

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