FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 17, 2011) -- The new Integrated Disability Evaluation System streamlines injured Soldiers' benefits.

The program, set to begin within the next month, partners the Department of Defense with the Department of Veterans Affairs where responsibilities overlap.

When a Soldier is injured, he or she may become disabled, which could be short- or long-term, depending on how severe the injury.

Currently, there are two separate systems injured Soldiers have to complete before receiving benefits, but where the systems overlap is where the duration of the processes are shortened.

"We are not changing any processes, but what we are doing is trying to get at system synergy," said Col. Patrick Denman, Lyster Army Health Clinic and the U.S. Army Aeromedical Center commander.

"When Soldiers are injured, the Army provides medical treatment to make them better," said Lt. Col. Joseph Graham, Medical Service Corps, deputy commander for administration. "If their injury or illness cannot get better and falls below the Army retention standard, then they are processed through the disability system."

IDES features a single set of disability medical examinations appropriate for determining both fitness and disability and a single set of disability ratings provided by VA.

First, the Physical Evaluation Board must make a determination of fitness. Through medical documentation and a physical, a three-member board determines if a Soldier can continue in the Army. If the board decides a Soldier can continue, the Soldier is designated "fit." If not, the Soldier is designated "unfit."

After being determined unfit, Soldiers' records go to the Veterans Benefit Administration to receive a disability rating. Afterward, the record is passed back to the Physical Evaluation Board, which uses the VA cumulative rating to determine the overall percentage of disability for unfit conditions. For example, a Soldier may initially have 30 percent disability from the Army and 80 percent overall disability from the VA.

There are three types of medical separations from the Army: separated with severance pay, separated without severance pay or retired. Soldiers rated below 30 percent are separated with or without severance pay.

"Ninety-three percent of Soldiers recommended for the disability systems get separated," said Graham.

This system was developed to shorten the 540 days it took a Solider from processing through the Army's system and then processing through the VA system. The objectives of the new system is about reducing redundancy; there is one single physical, one rating and the Soldier is put into the VA system much sooner and receives a VA benefits check after leaving the Army rolls, Graham said.

Under the IDES, the VA and the Army systems overlap. Now a Soldier can go through the system faster.

"In this new system, the time for a Soldier to receive VA benefits is significantly reduced; however, the system still requires approximately eight months. National data shows an average completion of 240-295 days versus the legacy Physical Disability Evaluation System," Graham said.

Soldiers at Fort Rucker will benefit because it's a lot quicker for them to receive their VA benefits check. It will not shorten Soldiers' time in their unit, according to Graham.

"Commanders will spend the same amount of time with their Soldiers in the IDES as they did utilizing PDES." he explained.

All of the steps in IDES are dictated by law. All of the steps must happen to make sure Soldiers receive the benefits they deserve, said Denman.

"We want to take care of our Soldiers and their families," Denman said. "We want to make the process as efficient and seamless for them as possible."