By Suzanne OvelJanuary 19, 2010
FORT LEWIS, Wash. Aca,!" Fort Lewis Soldiers who are being medically released from the Army will soon benefit from a more streamlined disability evaluation system, due to a program aligning the Department of DefenseAca,!a,,cs and Department of Veterans AffairsAca,!a,,c disability evaluations.
Starting Feb. 4, Fort Lewis will begin implementing the new disability evaluation system pilot program. Soldiers assigned to Fort Lewis who are entering a medical evaluation board will simultaneously apply for VA disability claims; those Soldiers already in an MEB will be grandfathered in and will not switch over to the new system.
Conducting both processes at once means a shortened wait time after separating to receive a VA disability check.
Under the new system, once Soldiers separate, theyAca,!a,,cll have severance/ retirement from the Army and disability from the VA within 30 days of separation, said Maj. Theresa Saville, patient administration division chief at Madigan Healthcare System.
Currently, Soldiers can either apply post- or pre-separation and must go through a separate VA medical assessment examination Aca,!" a process that can take from five months to more than a year from post-separation to check in-hand.
With the new combined system, the DoD and VA rating systems will remain distinct due to their separate functions; each system considers different factors when giving a disability rating, which often results in different ratings.
The Army looks at the physical problems that are causing the Soldier to go through the MEB... and the VA tends to look at all diseases and injuries incurred while on active duty, said Saville; while the DoD rating functions more as a workmanAca,!a,,cs compensation, the VA rating aims to protect lifetime income that may be threatened by a service-related disability.
While the two ratings and their related benefits should remain unchanged, the new program will consist of just one evaluation physical to be conducted by the VA primarily at an off-post clinic. Both the VA and DoD will use this physical for disability evaluation purposes, and will then evaluate the same medical records. This evaluation physical is for assessing only; all treatment will still be conducted with SoldiersAca,!a,,c primary care providers.
Aca,!A"Once all the kinks are worked out, itAca,!a,,cs going to be great for Soldiers; the Soldiers are truly the ones who are win-win in this case,Aca,!A? said Saville.
Although the new program will begin in early February, Soldiers most likely wonAca,!a,,ct notice its effects until March, Saville said. Feb. 4 is the first date that doctors may recommend Soldiers be reviewed for an MEB under the new program; the process to gather and review all the medical records can take from 14 to 45 days, depending on how complete the records are initially. After a review determines the MEB is needed, the Soldier will then go to the MEB and to the VA.
Since Soldiers will now be going through an additional disability evaluation, the entire process could take an extended amount of time from the current MEB length, Saville said. The benefit to Soldiers is to continue receiving active duty pay and benefits until that separation, after which the VA claim check should arrive shortly, if earned.
In addition, Soldiers should benefit because one of the two VA offices that conduct evaluations happens to be in Seattle, and Madigan is collocated with one of the ArmyAca,!a,,cs three physical evaluation boards, said Saville. This proximity should make implementation of this program easier and should also help in expediting receipt of the findings from the MEB and VA.
The DoD-wide disability evaluation system pilot began in November 2007 as part of the Defense Authorization Act of 2008. Madigan is in phase two of the three-phased implementation, and is the 21st military hospital to participate in the program.
Under the combined rating system, Soldiers should expect:
Aca,!Ac Two simultaneous yet separate evaluations by the VA and DoD
Aca,!Ac One medical evaluation exam
Aca,!Ac Unchanged disability-related benefits
Aca,!Ac Both DoD and VA claims paychecks 30 days after separation (if qualify)