Army streamlining disability rating process

Sept. 8, 2011

U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- An improved disability evaluation process for Soldiers is scheduled to begin in Europe in late 2011 or early 2012. It will eliminate both the requirement for veterans to navigate the VA disability evaluation process on their own and the delay between the end of Soldiers’ service and the beginning of their VA benefits.

The Integrated Disability Evaluation System partners the disability rating systems of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to produce a disability rating system used by both departments.

IDES features a single set of medical examinations and a single set of disability ratings, resulting in benefits that begin as soon as Soldiers separate from military service.

The VA does not have an overseas structure in place to support IDES, and thus does not have the structure or resources to support the required medical examinations here. Therefore, Soldiers overseas will return to the United States in a Permanent Change of Station status after their physician identifies them as requiring a Medical Evaluation Board.

However, Soldiers who enter the disability evaluation process prior to the start of the new program will continue under the “legacy” process. They will remain in Europe while their physicians document their disabilities during the Medical Evaluation Board, and while the Army personnel system rates their disability during the Physical Evaluation Board.

“The purpose of IDES is to minimize confusion and frustration for Soldiers and their Families. In the past, Soldiers have had to undergo two seemingly unconnected and demanding processes,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Horsley, Europe Regional Medical Command’s patient administration officer.

Under the legacy system that DOD is phasing out, the Army evaluates Soldiers’ medical conditions and determines whether they can continue performing their military missions. If they can’t, the Army then rates the level of that disability and separates them from the service with appropriate benefits. Then the veteran has to go through a similar process with the VA so that it can determine benefits.

“Under existing law,” said Horsley, “the Army evaluates a Soldier’s medical conditions only in relation to how it impacts his/her ability to perform as a Soldier.  The VA, on the other hand, evaluates disabilities in relation to their impact on other aspects of the Soldier’s life, including future earning potential and the general quality of life.”

The legacy process has been in place since the end of World War II and has served millions of veterans.  However, the system is redundant and time consuming.

“Under IDES, Soldiers’ VA benefits begin when their military service ends,” said Horsley. “The detailed and careful processes required by both the Army and VA disability systems are fundamentally the same, but we are trying to get to system synergy.”

“The Army Medical Department is able to return the vast majority of injured and ill Soldiers to duty,” said Horsley. “If they cannot return to duty, then they must enter the disability evaluation system, and it should be as seamless as possible.”

USAREUR and ERMC have identified challenges Europe-based Soldiers may encounter during this transition and are reviewing issues such as military couples when one military member will remain in Europe; Soldiers who intend to retire in Europe; and Soldiers married to non-U.S. citizens who have not yet filed immigration paperwork.

USAREUR and ERMC are building a website to provide information on IDES and will notify community members when it is ready.