WASHINGTON — A pilot program that eases medical separation and speeds benefit payments for service members too wounded, sick or injured to stay in the military will soon roll out to the entire force.
“We are proud that the disability evaluation system is making progress,” a senior defense official said this week. “Our people are committed to not only expanding this faster disability system, but we are just as committed to making it even faster and fairer for our transitioning servicemen and -women — our work here is not done.”
John R. Campbell, defense deputy undersecretary for wounded warrior care and transition policy, said the Integrated Disability Evaluation System is a joint effort between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.
“The events in February 2007 around Walter Reed triggered the DoD and the VA to really take a look at what they had been doing,” Campbell said during an interview this week. “That process then continued to where we are today.”
The program will expand to all military medical sites across the services by October 2011, he said.
In the past, separating service members got end-of-service physicals and final military treatment from local military medical clinics while still on active duty. After separation, troops seeking disability compensation would have to repeat the same examinations at VA facilities, and then wait weeks or months for a disability determination before they could request disability benefits.
“The legacy system had both DoD and VA as components, and the VA started only after the DoD (evaluation) was complete. So it took up to 540 days for the whole disability evaluation system to work,” Campbell said.
The new program brings together VA and military medical separation processes while service members are still on active duty. Under the new system, wounded, ill or injured service members receive medical evaluations by VA-certified doctors using VA guidelines, while DoD uses these exams to determine if a service member is able to continue in uniform.
The pilot program has been operating in 27 sites, and Campbell said the system now takes about 300 days to evaluate service member disabilities.
For service members, the process is faster, with only one set of examinations to complete, and fairer than the previous system, Campbell said, with all evaluations done through one set of protocols.
Campbell said the net result for medically separated service members is they can receive a disability rating while still on active duty, and receive disability compensation after their first full month in veteran status, the soonest allowable by law. Results from the test sites have been great, he said.
“We’re getting much higher satisfaction ratings from discharged service members and their families,” Campbell said. “(They say) this system is just far superior to the legacy system.”