New DoD Board Aims to Provide More Uniform Disability Ratings
Matt Pueschel, FHP&R Staff Writer
March 22, 2010
A new DoD board has been established to offer certain veterans an opportunity to appeal their service disability evaluation ratings.
At a meeting in the FHP&R offices in late February, Michael LoGrande, President of the DoD Physical Disability Board of Review (DoD PDBR), provided a group of military and veterans service organizations (MSO/VSO) with an overview of the new board, which was mandated by the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act.
The PDBR offers a reassessment of Service-assigned disability ratings to eligible veterans who apply. The PDBR uses the VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities only, without any Service-specific rules, which provides for a more uniform rating across all Services.
About 77,000 veterans are eligible to apply to the board and appeal their original Physical Evaluation Board ratings. These include veterans who were medically separated from their Service between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009 with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less.
Although the PDBR is a DoD board, it is operated by the Air Force with representatives from all the Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard). Often the board's recommendations result in higher disability ratings for veterans. "We've given the benefit of the doubt to the veteran applicant when it could go either way," LoGrande advised. "We gather their physical evaluation board documentation, service treatment records and any VA medical records. After a thorough review of all the documentation, the board convenes to re-adjudicate their case and make a recommendation to the appropriate Service secretary."
The Service secretaries (or their designees) act as the final decision authority in determining the applicant's overall disability rating.
About 800 veterans applied to the board in its first year, and that number is increasing daily. To date, the PDBR's recommendations in 61 percent of the cases reviewed by the board have resulted in ratings which made applicants eligible for disability retirement. The Army and Air Force have adopted nearly 100 percent of the board's recommendations, while the Navy has approved about 68 percent. LoGrande explained that the board's review process is very thorough, and includes a doctor and two line officers. "The most prevalent conditions seen in the first six months have been disabilities due to PTSD, TBI, and back and musculoskeletal conditions," he said.
Expressing concern, LoGrande said, "We currently have only six adjudicators and 77,000 potential applications."
"This is not something that we as DoD can ignore," LoGrande stressed. "It is mandated by Congress and we hope to get more resources and manpower to do this right."
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