Army Inspector General Details Findings on Soldier Disability System
By Mr. Paul Boyce (FORSCOM)March 12, 2007
On 12 March, The U.S. Army Inspector General provided House and Senate Congressional committees a completed inspection report on the Army Physical Disability Evaluation System detailing findings of military medical and personnel policies, procedures and services for wounded and injured Soldiers.This inspection was an Army initiative. It was a result of issues raised during an Army Wounded Warrior Program "rock drill" in March of 2006, which was a by-the-numbers walk-through rehearsal of patient handling and administration. It was additionally driven by feedback from an Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) Conference in early 2006. The Secretary of the Army, upon hearing the outcome of both, realized there was a complex problem that required close study. As a result, he directed the Army Inspector General to do a comprehensive review of the system in mid April 2006. He directed this inspection based upon indications of systemic issues due to an increase in Soldiers entering the disability system, not based upon Soldier complaints. The Inspector General's study was completed on March 6 and the findings were recently briefed to Army leadership. These timely findings and recommendations are being fully embraced by Army leaders and incorporated into the Walter Reed and Army-wide action plan to improve care for Soldiers and their families.
The assessment found policy variances between the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Defense Department and Army regulations; that training for personnel assisting Soldiers is not standardized and that current information-management databases are inadequate. The overall inspection's findings are being coordinated with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to make additional needed improvements worldwide.The inspection's recommendations include: updating Army regulations, improving timeliness standards, standardizing training, implementing quality controls and improving computer systems to better track Soldiers' medical information and case status.The purpose of the Physical Disability Evaluation System is to assess the fitness of Soldiers to remain in the Army and determine disability ratings for those found to be physically unfit for service. The Physical Disability Evaluation System process begins when a Soldier - who has received the best possible medical care for an illness or injury - continues to experience physical limitations. A doctor refers the Soldier to the Physical Disability Evaluation System when, because of injuries, the Soldier may no longer meet medical retention standards identified in Army regulations. Many cases have become more complicated because of the types of injuries Soldiers now are sustaining in combat, and with this patient volume, the Army currently does not meet its own case-processing time standards or those of the Defense Department.
The inspection found that the volume of Medical Evaluation Board cases significantly increased from 6,560 cases in Fiscal Year 2002 to about 11,000 cases in Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006. The number of Physical Evaluation Board cases rose from just over 9,000 in calendar year 2001 to a peak of over 15,000 cases in calendar year 2005. Increased inpatient loads impacted the Army's ability to meet the needs of Soldiers and the institution in a timely manner.
Since April 2006, the Department of the Army Inspector General conducted individual interviews and group sensing sessions with more than 650 Soldiers, civilians and leaders at 32 Army posts in the United States and overseas. The review found five best practices and made over 40 recommendations to improve case-processing times, policies and procedures. At each stop, the inspection team shared results of the assessment so corrective action could begin immediately instead of waiting for completion of the final report.
The Army currently is participating in a Defense Department-wide review examining the consistency of service members' disability evaluations and how potential issues identified in last year's Government Accountability Office report are being addressed.-30-For more information, please contact U.S. Army Public Affairs: Paul Boyce, (703) 697-2564
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