Schoomaker: Military Personnel Left Confused by Different Evaluation Systems at VA, DoD

WASHINGTON—Despite significant efforts by DoD and VA to revamp the disability evaluation process, the new system remains “complex and adversarial,” the top Army doctor told a congressional subcommittee.

DoD and VA agreed on a new disability and evaluation system to integrate their processes and speed up the delivery of benefits to military personnel after their discharge from service.

The system, called the integrated disability evaluation system (IDES), was introduced in November 2007 and is now being piloted at a number of military treatment facilities (MTFs) with the goal of expanding to all MTFs this year.

“The IDES has not changed the fundamental nature of the dual adjudication process,” explained Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker at a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. IDES uses a single physical disability exam following VA examination protocols and a single disability rating evaluation prepared by VA that both DoD and VA use to make their rating decisions. However, soldiers still undergo a dual adjudication process; DoD rates and determines compensation only for conditions that make the servicemember unfit for duty, while the VA rates for all service-connected conditions, Schoomaker said.

“Dual adjudication is confusing to soldiers and leads to serious misperceptions about the Army’s appreciation of the wounded, ill and injured soldiers’ complete medical and emotional situation,” Schoomaker said, pointing out that the two separate ratings leave servicemembers “confused.”

Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Charles Green, MD, told the subcommittee that he is on a task force that is examining the disability evaluation process. The task force is still in its “discovery phase,” but expects to make recommendations about the system. “I think that as the task force continues we will have some recommendations,” he said.

Mental Health

Committee members also wanted to know whether progress was being made in addressing mental health issues among troops. “Do you feel you have adequate mental health personnel?” asked Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD.

Schoomaker said that the “nation is facing a problem” in having enough, and as a microcosm of the nation, so does the Army.

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