Friday March 5, 2010
What is it?
The Defense Department's Disability Evaluation System (DES) pilot program, a joint initiative with the Veterans Affairs Department to simplify and streamline the disability evaluation system for wounded, injured, or ill servicemembers, is expanding to additional Army installations.
Why is this important to the Army?
Caring for disabled service members and veterans is among the nation's highest priorities. But it has been widely recognized for years that the process for determining the extent of disabilities for service members and veterans and delivering benefits is complex and takes too long. For example, the Defense Department (DOD) and the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) have separate disability programs. It means a Soldier who's wounded, injured, or ill or is retiring must first process through the DOD disability system and then, if he/she leaves the Army, must go through the VA's process. Going through the two systems takes 18 months on average before a Soldier starts receiving VA disability benefits.
What is the Army doing?
One thing the DES pilot program does is to make the overall disability evaluation process faster, fairer, and simpler by combining the separate DOD and VA disability systems. That eliminates redundant medical exams and disability ratings. The pilot program's process is for a Soldier to get one comprehensive physical exam by a VA-certified doctor and receive a "Service Unfitting" rating and a single VA-determined disability rating that both DOD and VA recognize. Those who've gone through the pilot program's process see VA disability benefits in less than eight months on average compared to an average 18 months via the regular system.
What efforts does the Army plan to continue in the future?
By March 31, 2010, the DES pilot program will be operating at Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Fort Riley, Kan. Those Phase II locations are in addition to those where the program was established earlier during Phase I: Fort Belvior, Va.; Fort Meade, Md.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Fort Polk, La.; Fort Richardson, Alaska; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Phase III of the DES pilot program calls for expanding it to 13 additional Army installations, but at this time no timeline has been set.
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"From a division commander who had responsibility for the seven northern provinces of Iraq here recently, we had an economic line of effort and we put a lot of energy into the development of the economy through Commander's Emergency Response Program or starting new businesses. If I had had this background, and if our officers had had this training, this was exactly the kind of thing we need to go into these kinds of operations."
- Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., commander of Command and General Staff War College, speaks positively about embracing the notion of "Expeditionary Economics," which provides guidance on how young officers and more senior noncommissioned officers could help set the conditions for economic growth in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where development is considered a key to success.
"Medication works 50 percent of the time. Talk therapy, alone, works 30 percent of the time, and dogs work 84.5 percent of the time. The dogs are proven effective. It's a much better deal for the veteran because they don't have to worry about the side effects of medication."
- Alicia Miller, Army veteran and cofounder of Operation Wolfhound provides dogs to veterans with PTSD
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