System to speed VA disability aid

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

1/7/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs have teamed up to establish a streamlined system to increase the response time for benefits. The process is
expected to begin this month at the Maxwell clinic.

Currently, service members who are medically separated or retired face a 12-18 month wait before receiving VA benefits. Under the Integrated Disability Evaluation
System, the goal is 30 days.

"With IDES, the VA military service coordinator is assigned immediately after the (Physical Evaluation Board liaison officer) is assigned to the case," said Col.
Diana Atwell, the 42nd Medical Group commander. "The military service coordinator is the link between the service member and the VA, keeping the service member and the PEBLO informed of VA processes and results."

Before IDES, service members underwent a comprehensive medical exam and received a rating through the Medical Evaluation Board, then waited for similar exams at the VA level before the VA determined its own rating, which may be different from the one already assigned.

IDES eliminates duplicated steps at the VA level to speed up the process. Under the new program, service members will complete the Medical Evaluation Board, receiving one comprehensive exam and one rating.

"The military end of the process will become more efficient, and the VA portion will be shortened," Colonel Atwell said.

Service members also benefit from having several resources available at one time before separation or retirement. Commanders, the clinic and the VA will work together to ensure service members are receiving the best medical care possible.

Gregory Parrish, the military service coordinator, will have an office at the Maxwell clinic to facilitate the process.

"This program is designed specifically to ensure that each medical-boarded service member will have a completed disability rating in hand as they depart military service," Mr. Parrish said.

Mr. Parrish is a Persian Gulf War veteran who has worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs for 14 years. He also works with the Transition Assistance
Program at Maxwell.

"I believe that the IDES program is what is needed to help alleviate some of the stress experienced by Airmen during the medical board process," he said. "By
providing personal, case-managed assistance to service members, I can help them add a planned aspect to an often unplanned transition from the military to the
civilian sector."

Colonel Atwell said this process does not change the medical board or the appeals processes.

IDES assists once the service member and the board agree separation is necessary, allowing the VA to start providing benefits quickly.

The program will eventually be offered DoD-wide, backed by a congressional mandate. This will ensure each installation follows the same process and meets specific milestones for each veteran.

"It's an extremely transparent process," said 2nd Lt. Shane Slade,
the Tricare operations patient administration flight commander for the 42nd Medical Group.

The pilot program began in 2007 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

"Every PEBLO that I have spoken with that has started using the IDES process has stated that patients, wing and medical providers love the new process," said Master
Sgt. Neo Greene, the Physical Evaluation Board liaison officer for the 42nd Medical Group. "The monthly metrics and patient surveys collected by the (Office of the
Secretary of Defense) confirm this fact."

Sergeant Greene is spreading the word about the new program.

"I am briefing our medical providers on the process and their responsibilities," he said. He also is meeting with 42nd Air Base Wing leadership and placing information brochures and fact sheets around the base.

Colonel Atwell is pleased to implement this new program at the
Maxwell clinic.

"It's all about taking care of our warriors, as they deserve the very best we can offer."