DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE MINIMIZING DISABILITY

 

Sent in by Khe Sanh Army Vet Bruce Geiger (twin forty's.)

 

 

Before you read this let me tell you of an experience Glenda and I had while in DC in 2004 with one of our Marines that was going to go to a disability board in DC the lying ass pinheads below talked about.

 

Because of the cost of staying in DC for our briefing we stayed at a Military transient lodge on one of the bases just outside DC but within a few minutes driving time to the capital area.

 

While there we ran into a young Marine that had been a crew chief on a chopper that had crashed.  It was obvious this fellows back was messed up big time and he was in much pain.  He indicated the reason for being here was he had a disability board the following day.  He indicated the DOD wanted to discharge him with a 50% disability and he had refused to do so.  He then indicated the JAG officer he had told him it was a good deal for him and when he got out he could file with the VA and the VA would then give him 100% disability for the same injuries.

 

Glenda and I then took the young Marine to school on what the VA does in stalling, denial, and illegal tactics granted to them by our own congress.  That the JAG officer lies and the VA will not just automatically grant him 100% for the same injuries and they would in fact use the DOD board rating of 50% against him.

 

We told him and his parents that had driven him to the DC area that he had better not leave DC without a 100% rating despite the lies of the JAG officer and the lies of the DOD.

 

Of course the next day we went our separate ways so we do not know what the outcome was but with the education he and his parents got - I hope they stood tall and did not believe the DOD and the unscrupulous JAG Officer in much of anything except their names and rank.

 

 

Critics: Army holding down disability ratings

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Feb 23, 2007 21:15:49 EST
The Army is deliberately shortchanging troops on their disability retirement
ratings to hold down costs, according to veterans’ advocates, lawyers and
service members.

“These people are being systematically underrated,” said Ron Smith, deputy
general counsel for Disabled American Veterans. “It’s a bureaucratic game to
preserve the budget, and it’s having an adverse affect on service members.”

The numbers of people approved for permanent or temporary disability
retirement in the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have stayed relatively
stable since 2001.

But in the Army — in the midst of a war — the number of soldiers approved
for permanent disability retirement has plunged by more than two-thirds,
from 642 in 2001 to 209 in 2005, according to a Government Accountability
Office report last year. That decline has come even as the war in Iraq has
intensified and the total number of soldiers wounded or injured there has
soared above 15,000.

The Army denies there is any intentional effort to push wounded troops off
the military rolls. But critics say many troops being evaluated for possible
disability retirement accept the first rating they are offered during their
first informal board — but that if they were to request a formal board, and
then appeal the decision of that board, they would receive higher ratings.

The system is complicated — “unduly so,” the Rand Corp. think tank said in a
2005 report — and the counselors who advise troops often have insufficient
training or experience. Service members also assume that after months spent
in a war zone, the military will look out for them, critics say.

Those who try to navigate the process beyond their initial evaluation — to
include hundreds of combat veterans in limbo at Walter Reed Army Medical
Center in Washington — face long waits, lost paperwork and months or even
years away from home as they try to complete the process. If they receive a
rating of above 30 percent, they receive disability retirement pay, medical
benefits, and commissary privileges. Those rated under 30 percent receive
severance pay and no benefits.

Many eventually give up and take their chances with the Department of
Veterans Affairs, which may give a higher rating for the same disability.

But under the separate disability payment systems of the Defense Department
and the VA, a higher VA rating does not necessarily translate into more
money — and forgoing military disability retirement also means giving up
lifetime commissary and exchange privileges, military health care and other
benefits.

While the number of soldiers placed on permanent disability retirement has
declined in the past five years, the number placed on temporary disability
retirement — with medical conditions that officials rule might improve so
they can return to work over time or worsen to the point that they must be
permanently retired — has increased more than fourfold, from 165 in 2001 to
837 in 2005.

Troops on temporary disability leave convalesce for 18 months while
receiving reduced basic pay. After 1½ years, they are reevaluated and
either returned to duty, or rated for separation or permanent disability
retirement, or sent back to temporary disability for another 18 months — up
to five years.

Along with paying them reduced wages during that time, the eventual
reevaluation often leads to downward revisions in their disability ratings —
and lower disability payments.

Service members’ conditions must be deemed stable before they receive a
permanent disability rating, unless they are rated at less than 30 percent.
In that case, they are discharged with severance pay — whether they are in
stable condition or not. If their conditions then worsen, they’ll receive no
more money from the military.

Compared to the overall size of the defense budget, disability retirement
costs are relatively small. In 2004, the military paid more than $1.2
billion in permanent and temporary disability benefits to 90,000 people, the
GAO said.

That does not include the costs of lump-sum severance pay — up to 24 months
of basic pay — given to 11,174 disabled troops that year in lieu of
disability retirement pay. The Pentagon was unable to provide data on
severance costs, the GAO said.

Officials with the Army’s Physical Disability Agency say there is no ploy to
save money and that troops going through the process are treated well.

“There is absolutely no attempt on the part of the Army or this agency to
deny soldiers any disability benefits or to push them off on the VA,” said
Col. Andy Buchanan, the agency’s deputy commander.

Adjudicators “are committed to ensuring all disability decisions are made
fairly and accurately and based on the evidence in the soldier’s medical
record,” he said. “We have never received any guidance, official or
otherwise, from anywhere within DoD to limit findings for budgetary or other
reasons.”

In 2005, Ellen Embrey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force
health protection and readiness, told House lawmakers the reason for the
comparatively large numbers of troops placed on temporary disability was
actually to keep end strength up. A premature medical evaluation board
decision, she said, “may negatively impact the individual’s ability to
continue serving.”

‘I couldn’t believe it’

Smith said he began hearing tales about two years ago of service members who
said they were not getting proper disability ratings based on the VA
Schedule for Rating — the document used by both the military services and
the VA to determine percentage ratings for disabilities, which in turn sets
compensation rates.

“I finally decided to take on a case myself,” Smith said. “It’s been a while
since I took a case.”

He found an Army captain whose radial nerve in his right arm had been
destroyed in Iraq — the same injury that has left Bob Dole, the World War II
veteran and former Kansas senator, unable to use his arm to do more than
hold a pen.

Smith followed the captain through the physical evaluation board process. He
said that under the ratings schedule, this was an easy call: 70 percent
disability. But at his first informal medical evaluation board, the captain
initially was offered just 30 percent, and he had to fight to raise it to 60
percent through a subsequent formal evaluation board and then a final
appeal.

“His first offer Â… I couldn’t believe it,” Smith said. “I was just
incensed.”

Many troops accept the first rating offered them at their initial informal
evaluation board, Smith said. “Soldiers are trained. When the evaluation
board says, ‘This is what you get,’ the soldiers say, ‘Yes sir.’ A lot of
people don’t appeal.”

Dennis Brower, legal advisor for the Army’s Physical Disability Agency,
acknowledged as much, saying only 10 percent of soldiers request a formal
board.


But when the Army wouldn’t budge on raising the captain’s rating above 60
percent, Smith took the case a step beyond where most soldiers can go.

“I called the adjutant general and said I wanted a meeting,” Smith said —
and added that if he didn’t get one, he was “going to Congress.’ ”

That was in January. He got his meeting. He has demanded that the Army’s
Physical Disability Agency look for patterns of incremental increases in
disability ratings as troops move through the process, and how closely their
ratings match what the VA schedule mandates.

Smith is still waiting to hear back, but suspects the pattern will show that
a large proportion of troops with less than 20 years of service — who don’t
already qualify for retirement — are rated at under 30 percent, the
threshold for being considered for disability retirement pay and all other
military benefits that come with it. Many of those troops instead receive
one-time, lump-sum disability severance pay that is much lower in value than
lifetime retirement compensation.

Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Stewart Upton said the disability retirement
process is being looked at.

“We are in the midst of a business-process review that will generate
improvements to program effectiveness, including timeliness goals for
processing cases and standard definitions of start and end points as well as
other metrics to ensure that progress can be accurately measured over time
against common metrics,” Upton said.

“We are especially concerned with a balance of what constitutes prompt
adjudication, while maintaining reasonable flexibility within the system to
ensure recoveries are not inappropriately rushed.”

Fit for duty?

Army Lt. Col. Mike Parker was diagnosed with reactive arthritis, which
causes painful swelling and eventual calcification of the joints. He was put
on drugs that suppress his immune system, but kept on active duty — even
though his medication must be refrigerated and he must remain near
specialized medical care.

Without a suppressed immune system, there is no chance of him being
deployed, much less to a combat zone. “If I get shot, it’s not good,” he
said.

Though pleased that he could continue to serve, he wondered how a medical
evaluation board could find him fit. After he talked to a dozen other
service members from all branches with similar diagnoses of reactive
arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis, he realized they were all evaluated
based on different criteria. He produced hundreds of pages of medical
records, letters and rulings to support his claims.

Some were handed disability ratings that would provide them with the $20,000
in drugs that they would need for the rest of their lives, while others were
told they had preexisting conditions and given no benefits. Still others —
including some with medical evidence proving otherwise — were told that
because their diseases had improved and would not worsen, their disability
ratings were based on the idea that they had improved from chronic illnesses
that, in reality, could worsen.

Parker began making calls — to lawmakers, doctors, veterans’ groups and the
media. He sought out troops having problems and offered to help them through
the process, piecing together medical paperwork to make sure people got what
they deserved.

He said he has seen case after frustrating case of the services ignoring
their own rules. For example, an evaluation board is supposed to provide
“clear and unerring evidence” for a ruling that a particular condition was
preexisting — but Parker said that often does not happen.

He cited a Marine who had received a 10 percent disability rating for
post-traumatic stress disorder from a Navy physical evaluation board — and
was later rated at 50 percent for the same condition by the VA, using the
same ratings schedule and the same medical records.

Unrelated to service

In May 2003, Army Cpl. Richard Twohig was thrown from an armored personnel
carrier in Iraq. The 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper landed on his head,
said his lawyer, Mark Waple, of Fayetteville, N.C.

Twohig suffers headaches at least once a week that last up to 14 hours, as
well as short-term memory loss, and is dependent on pain medication.

“This is well substantiated by his doctors — Army medical doctors,” Waple
said.

But his physical evaluation board rated him only 10 percent disabled for
another injury because he had no substantive proof the headaches were a
result of the accident — even though regulations call for evaluation boards
to give troops the benefit of the doubt in such instances.

“I believe it is budget-related,” Waple said. “I believe that there is a
feeling the service member should turn to the VA for both their health care
and their veterans’ benefits.”

Twohig can’t work because of the disabling headaches, and even if he
receives VA benefits, his family has lost its medical insurance. And if a
physical evaluation board rules that injuries are not related to service or
were preexisting conditions, troops are not eligible for VA benefits,
either.

Waple said he began helping soldiers through the physical evaluation board
process in the 1970s while he was still an Army lawyer, and he said he has
watched the system change since the wars began in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The system “has become less friendly toward service members with compensable
decisions on disability” in the past few years, especially since the war in
Iraq began, Waple said.

“I think there is a definite bias on the physical evaluation board to
medically separate service members with a zero-, 10- or 20-percent
disability rating when it Â… should be medical retirement.”


Waple said he has about a dozen cases out of Fort Bragg, N.C., similar to
Twohig’s.

Army Spc. Ruben Villalpando, who was featured in the Military Times coverage
of the problems at Walter Reed, said that since the stories were published,
contractors have fixed the elevator in Building 18 — the facility where
troops on “medical hold” are housed — and have inspected each room to
determine what needs to be fixed.

But more importantly to him, a Judge Advocate General lawyer looked at his
case after he filed a complaint that he received no disability rating
because his depression was ruled to have existed prior to his enlisting.

Villalpando said he became depressed because his cousin, a Marine, was
electrocuted while they were both serving in Iraq. He has been at Walter
Reed for just over a year.

“The JAG wanted to know how they knew it was existing prior to service if
they didn’t have my medical records,” Villalpando said.

He has appealed that decision, and his appeal is still pending. “I’m keeping
my fingers crossed,” he said.

A complicated process

Brower, the Army disability agency’s legal advisor, said part of the problem
is that service members don’t understand how the process works. For example,
he said a soldier who carries a notepad because of short-term memory loss
will not be rated for that disability because he can function. But if he
loses a foot, he would be rated for that.

“There’s no need to compensate” for the short-term memory loss because it
“didn’t end your military career,” he said. “The foot did. We compensate for
the loss of a career.”

And Upton said soldiers have plenty of opportunity to appeal.

“Service members are afforded due process to ensure their cases and concerns
can be fairly considered whichever direction they choose,” he said. “Service
members also have rights of appeal at specific points in the process should
they disagree with their rating.”

Buchanan, the Army Physical Disability Agency’s deputy commander, said the
system is not as bad as government reports have led people to believe.

“It really is a fair process,” he said. “It’s wide open. We have nothing to
hide.”

Buchanan also said he had “no visibility” on the costs related to disability
retirement pay, so he doesn’t know if the budget is going up or down.


He said he gives medical evaluation board adjudicators one instruction:

“Do the right thing. That’s the guidance I give them.”

Join our discussion board: Army
<
http://www.militarycity.com/discussions/showthread.php?t=1529> deliberately
shortchanging troops on disability retirement


Related reading:

* Awarding disability pay: Comparing

<http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/02/TNSdisabilitypay070222/> DoD vs. VA
systems


* Tour <http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/02/TNSreedfallout070222/>
reveals renovations under way at Walter Reed


* Wounded <http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/02/tnsmedboards070217/> and
waiting: A slow medical evaluation process leaves many injured troops in
limbo



From: Waspscpo@aol.com [mailto:Waspscpo@aol.com]
Sent: Saturday, February 24, 2007 8:19 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: Critics: Army holding down disability ratings

Critics:
<http://cl.exct.net/?ffcb10-fe3b15727462057d7c1470-fdf210767d64077f76127971-
ff011577756600-fe9815747d64027e74-fdeb1577736d0d7c711c7577> Army holding
down disability ratings


The Army is deliberately shortchanging troops on their disability retirement
ratings to hold down costs, according to veterans’ advocates, lawyers and
service members.

“These people are being systematically underrated,” said Ron Smith, deputy
general counsel for Disabled American Veterans. “It’s a bureaucratic game to
preserve the budget, and it’s having an adverse affect on service members.”
[
<http://cl.exct.net/?ffcb10-fe3b15727462057d7c1470-fdf210767d64077f76127971-
ff011577756600-fe9815747d64027e74-fdeb1577736d0d7c711c7577> Read More ]

http://www.navytimes.com/news/2007/02/TNSmedholdmoney070222/

YNCS Don Harribine, USN(ret)


 

Kelley