FORT KNOX, Ky. — Serving in the U.S. military is a noble and just commitment to civic duty; however, such duty is also very physically and mentally challenging.
A Soldier, whether serving on active or Reserve duty, never knows what challenges a duty day may bring during a long military career. This is precisely why all Soldiers sacrificing for their country must take certain precautions to document all medical issues, however slight, in case an unexpected medical situation arises that requires the Army to initiate a Medical Evaluation Board due to a Soldier's sudden illness or injury.
Serving our country is a great career, but it can also come at great sacrifice. A plethora of benefits, like disability retirement, severance pay, medical costs and dental care, could be at risk absent proper documentation of any career-ending injuries, according to Army Regulation 600-8-4, Paragraph 2-3.
The general rule is that the Army will not compensate Soldiers for an injury or illness sustained outside of military service. For compensation, a Soldier's medical condition must have been incurred or aggravated in the line of duty and in a duty status authorized by federal law and Army Regulation.
This means intentional misconduct, neglect, unauthorized absence, or a medical condition existing prior to the service member's entrance into a full time duty status — or incurred between periods of duty — will not be compensated by the Army, as per 10 U.S. Code §1201.
Finally, Soldiers who suffer from a physical disability that makes them unfit to perform their military duties will be separated from the Army without entitlement to any benefits under 10 U.S. Code, Chapter 61 (Retirement or Separation for Military Duty) if the medical conditions cannot be traced back to their occurrence while performing military duties, according to 10 U.S. Code §1207.
That being said, the situation need not involve something nefarious as the preceding sentence may suggest.
The facts surrounding a particular circumstance may simply be that the Soldier failed to properly and sufficiently document their medical visits or somehow failed to amass required medical records for the physical ailments in question.
The bottom line is, a Soldier's benefits will be decided by whether the Soldier's injury or illness was incurred while performing military duties. This is why any Soldier, especially mobilized Reservists and Guardsmen, needs to ensure certain precautions are taken to properly document any medical problems experienced as a result of performing military duties.
First and foremost, Soldiers must ensure their commands properly document their injuries on an official DA Form 2173 (Statement of Medical Examination and Duty Status) and the approval memo, or DD Form 261 (Report of Investigation Line of Duty and Misconduct Status), in accordance with Army Regulation 600–8–4.
That regulation states, “The senior commander is responsible for the successful completion of all aspects of the MEB process at their installation.”
This includes line of duty, or LOD, requirements pertaining to disability cases, which is a command function and an essential component to a Soldier’s Army disability case. It is also imperative that Soldiers promptly document their injuries and illnesses as soon as they happen.
For reservists and National Guard members, the best time to do this is while the member is still on active duty orders. Otherwise, retroactively attempting to obtain an LOD to document injuries can become quite challenging. Notice I said challenging, not impossible.
If Soldiers have difficulty gaining traction with the command to generate an LOD captured on a DA Form 2173 or DD Form 261, the next best option is to “connect the dots” so to speak.
Soldiers can prove their injury or illness happened because of military service by presenting medical notes, military orders or other documentation showing that the Soldier was serving on orders at the time of the injury. The best case is when the Soldier can show medical treatment was rendered for the medical condition in question while the Soldier was on military orders.
If medical treatment was not rendered while the Soldier was on orders, the next best case is when the injury is documented while the Soldier is on orders and treatment occurred shortly thereafter.
We consistently see Soldiers appealing cases where the Army found the non-qualifying condition was not duty-related but the command failed to initiate an LOD inquiry and the Soldier did not seek one out. There was a time when the LOD requirement was waived, but the waiver was cancelled in 2017, and LODs are now required for Reserve Component Soldiers.
The obvious objection in a reader’s mind might be, “But I don’t want to bring this medical issue to my command – I want to keep my job!”
You will have to answer that question for yourself. However, if you do not document the situation and get a favorable LOD, and the condition prevents duty performance, in all likelihood the disability will not be found by the Army to be in the line of duty.
On the other hand, if you get the condition documented and treated, it may not permanently interfere with duty performance at all.
In conclusion, documenting your injuries and illnesses over the course of a military career is very important. Soldiers work too hard and make tremendous sacrifices over many years to not receive treatment, care and compensation for unfortunate injuries or illnesses that develop due to commitment to duty.
From the standpoint of a medical board lawyer seeking what is best for his Soldier client, the best advice is to get the injury documented, get it treated, and get that favorable LOD.
Editor’s Note: The author serves in the Office of Soldier’s Counsel at the Soldier’s Medical Evaluation Board Counsel. All opinions and views are his and not necessarily official views of, or endorsed by, the U.S. government, Department of Defense, Department of the Army and Fort Knox.