FALLS CHURCH, Va. - The Department of Defense (DoD) is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand a pilot program that simplifies the current disability evaluation process for wounded, injured and ill service members.

The Disability Evaluation System (DES) pilot program is aimed at assisting wounded service members obtain faster access to TRICARE and other healthcare and VA benefits by developing a single medical examination used by both DoD and VA, with a single source disability evaluation done by VA and accepted by DoD.

The pilot, implemented in November 2007 in the National Capitol Region, is slated to expand to 19 additional installations through June 1, 2009.

Currently, a wounded warrior's branch of service evaluates the member for conditions that may make him or her unfit for duty. This evaluation initiates the medical examination board process. Following separation or retirement from service, the member is again evaluated by the VA for disability and compensation. The pilot process streamlines and makes more transparent both processes through concurrent rather than sequential processing, more information for the member during the process, and comprehensive information regarding entitlements from both agencies at the time of the separation.

Under the pilot, only one evaluation is necessary after a member is referred for a service medical evaluation board. The single evaluation also helps service members get comprehensive information about their benefits, including TRICARE.

The pilot is a result of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors. The goal is to simplify healthcare and treatment for injured service members and veterans and deliver benefits as quickly as possible.

The pilot was initially tested at three Military Treatment Facilities in the National Capitol Region - Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Since the pilot program began, the VA indicates more than 700 service members have participated in the pilot. To collect and evaluate data from other geographic regions, 19 more installations have been added to the study, including Fort Carson, Colo., Naval Medical Center San Diego, Calif., and Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

For more information about how TRICARE works for medically retired service members, visit http://www.tricare.mil.

For more information about VA benefits, visit http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA.