FORT LEWIS, Wash. - A new building dedicated Monday morning on Fort Lewis will serve as home to one of only three Physical Evaluation Boards in the Army.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Fort Lewis PEB took place at Building 9033 on Dearborn Avenue, near Madigan Army Medical Center. The PEB moved from Building 9913A, also in the Madigan area.

"Today is all about continuity and change," said Col. John O'Sullivan, president of the Fort Lewis PEB, at the ceremony. "We're changing our physical location. We're changing our business process. We're improving timeliness. We're improving how we do our job.

"So there have been some changes, but there's continuity, as well. Our mission to take care of Soldiers has not changed."

The PEB came to Fort Lewis in 1993 from the Presidio in Monterey, Calif.

"This new building that we open today is the first building that we've had that's specifically designed for the work that we do," O'Sullivan said. "This is the culmination of several years' worth of hard work."

"We have a building here today that will help us serve Soldiers and their families," said Brig. Gen. Reuben Jones, commander of the U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency. "It's about teamwork. This community here is absolutely superb. They supported this effort from start to finish."

The Fort Lewis PEB works with medical evaluation boards at Madigan and 12 other medical treatment facilities in 27 states - including Alaska and Hawaii - and in the Pacific Command. Treating physicians refer Soldiers to MEBs when they are unable to perform their military duties.

The other PEBs are at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. All three PEBs are part of the Physical Disability Agency.

PEBs evaluate cases of physical disability for Soldiers and the Army. They determine the fitness of Soldiers with medical conditions and determine compensation for those whose careers are ended by service-connected disabilities.

With the high operational tempo of today's Army, the PEBs are busy. Prior to 9-11, the PEBs evaluated 9,500 Soldiers per year. That number has climbed to approximately 14,500 annually.

After the ceremony, Jones took some time to discuss the important work of the PEBs.

"The board is at the end of that process when bad things happen to (Soldiers), things that render them physically unfit to continue their service," Jones said. "At the end of the day, we tell (our people) to be compassionate to Soldiers and give the Soldier the benefit of the doubt."

According to Jones, in 2006 34 percent of combat-related cases received approval for retirement. He added that the figure is now 71 percent.

"When bad things happen, I think the nation has a responsibility to compensate, provide opportunities for those Soldiers and their families who go through that," Jones said. "We try to unravel that, de-mystify the process, so that Soldiers and families can have a better idea of what America is going to provide them by way of benefits and a future."

Jones said he's working to revamp the physical evaluation system. The new Fort Lewis PEB facility is a step along the way.

"We're on a continuous improvement campaign," Jones said. "We want to transform the system, see what we can do better, and that's what we're going to do."

Bob Reinert is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.