WASHINGTON (Nov. 16, 2009) -- Defense and Veterans Affairs officials today announced another step in their efforts to streamline the process of determining veterans' disability ratings.

Beginning in January, the Disability Evaluation System pilot program will expand to six installations. The new participants are medical facilities at Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Va.

Twenty-seven other military facilities already take part in the program.

"The decision to expand the pilot was based upon favorable reviews focusing on the program's ability to meet timeliness, effectiveness, transparency and customer and stakeholder satisfaction," said Nole Koch, deputy undersecretary of defense for wounded warrior care and transition policy, in a statement released by the Defense Department.

The pilot program began in November 2007 within the national capital region and concerns servicemembers who separated from the military under honorable conditions for service-related injuries. It addresses redundancy and inconsistent decisions in medical evaluations in separate disability processes used in the Defense Department and VA.

Outside of the medical facilities using the pilot programs, evaluations for veterans are managed first by Defense Department physicians, then by VA. Through this program, physicians in both departments collaborate on medical findings, speeding the claims and benefit payment processes for disabled veterans.

"The pilot is a test of a new process design eliminating the duplicative, time-consuming, and often confusing elements of the two current disability processes of the departments," the Defense Department statement said. "Key features of the [pilot] include one medical examination and a single-sourced disability rating."

More than 5,400 military members have participated in the pilot program.

"Streamlining our disability claims system and working closely with [the Defense Department] to care for today's generation of heroes are among VA's top priorities," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in the statement. "We will never lose sight of the fact that veterans and military personnel have earned their benefits ... by virtue of their service to the nation."

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