Warrior Care: DoD, VA Collaborate on Disability Evaluation Pilot Program
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2008 The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are collaborating on a pilot disability evaluation system that’s set to expand next year, compensation officials said.
The pilot program applies to military members who’ve been identified for separation under honorable conditions for service-related injuries, Samuel B. Retherford, director of DoD’s officer and enlisted personnel management office, said during a recent Pentagon Channel interview.
The pilot system came about as a result of task force recommendations after reports surfaced about subpar outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. It addresses perceived deficiencies such as redundancy, inconsistent decisions in medical evaluations, adversarial relations between DoD and VA, and other topics, Retherford said.
“The pilot [program] attempts to address all of those recommendations,” he said. Improvements in customer service and overall efficiency are accomplished through greater collaboration between DoD and VA, he said.
The pilot program was implemented within the National Capital Region in November 2007. It’s slated to expand to 15 military installations next year, Retherford said, noting about 700 people have participated so far. The expansion of the program should add about 500 people each month, he said.
Customer surveys attest to the pilot program’s success so far, Retherford said. “We want to broaden how it works in other situations” at other installations, Retherford said.
The DoD and VA military disability evaluation programs used to be managed sequential to one another, Retherford said, and it could take years for some veterans to receive disability monies and other benefits. Under the old system, he said, disagreements arose between military and VA physicians regarding medical evaluations, which affect the size of veterans’ disability payments.
“There were different [evaluation] outcomes, so there was a lot of adversarial, bad feelings,” between DoD and VA, Retherford acknowledged.
The pilot evaluation system is managed on a parallel structure between DoD and VA so that personnel from both agencies can collaborate on medical findings, Retherford said. Efficiencies realized through the pilot program have enabled veterans to receive their disability benefits more quickly, he said.
“The DoD and VA are both there” to help veterans through the disability evaluation pilot program, Retherford said.
A disability separation can be a high-stress event that servicemembers cannot plan for, said Thomas J. Pamperin, deputy director of VA’s compensation and pension service who accompanied Retherford at the interview.
It is a great benefit to servicemembers undergoing disability evaluations to make the process more predictable and certain, Pamperin said.