FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Two Senate Veterans Affairs Committee staff members met with Evans Army Community Hospital leaders recently as part of a Disability Evaluation System pilot fact-finding trip to Fort Carson.

Dahlia Melendrez, chief benefits counsel, and Amanda Meredith, minority general counsel, received briefings on the current status of DES at Fort Carson.

Local and regional Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration leaders also attended and provided reports on their DES achievements and actions to date.

After the meetings, the staff members met with Fort Carson Soldiers who are involved in the DES pilot. They also visited the Soldier Family Assistance Center and Medical Evaluation Board Center.

As Soldiers continue to deploy overseas, many other active- and reserve-component Soldiers affiliated with Fort Carson are currently undergoing the Medical Evaluation Board process and awaiting determinations on their careers in the Army.

The MEB process determines if Soldiers are either able to continue in uniform or need to transition back into civilian life. A joint Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs Disability Evaluation System pilot program began at Fort Carson and several other installations last year and has become a key component in the MEB process.

As designed, DES simplifies and restructures how servicemembers are evaluated for continued military service and qualify for benefits as a result of wounds, illnesses, or injuries.

The program eliminates duplicative DoD and VA practices; it shortens the disability claims process by engaging the VA as soon as a servicemember is referred for possible disability evaluation; and it integrates new case management features to ensure a smooth transition for Soldiers who must transition to VA healthcare.

Implementation of the new system faces congressional scrutiny.

In April, Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, chairman of the Senate's Committee on Veterans' Affairs, directed members of his DoD/VA Senior Oversight Committee to provide him a progress report on the DES pilot.

In addition to gathering and reviewing the latest statistics, the senator also wants to delay full implementation of the DES program until the Government Accountability Office completes their review of the program.

"This was an excellent opportunity for us to review the current state of the DES Pilot, and to conduct frank discussions with VA leaders," said Col. Jimmie O. Keenan, EACH commander. "The DES is a good concept and should prove very effective in reducing the time Soldiers have to wait for disability determinations."

The DES pilot enables Soldiers to complete the DoD and the VA processes at the same time. While Soldiers may stay on active duty longer, when they are discharged, they receive all of their benefits simultaneously. Prior to DES Soldiers had to wait from six to 18 months after discharge to get their VA benefits.

"Our Soldiers deserve the best services the Army and VA have to offer. An efficient and effective DES can help provide this," said Keenan.

A government determination on fully implementing the DES across all military services is expected later this year.

Page last updated Fri June 18th, 2010 at 12:14