The Department of Defense announced today, in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a process designed to expedite a service member seriously injured in combat from military to veteran status, by waiving the standard Disability Evaluation System (DES), resulting in receipt of benefits in three to four months, compared to a recovery and standard DES process that would normally take much longer.
"This new policy should allow service members and their families to focus on the essentials of recovery, reintegration, employment and independent living, with the combined assistance from DoD and VA," said Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Michael L. Dominguez. "The policy supports our belief that there must be a distinction for those who incur devastating disabilities in combat."
The expedited process applies to service members whose conditions are designated as "catastrophic" and whose injuries were incurred in the line of duty as a direct result of armed conflict. A catastrophic injury or illness is a permanent, severely disabling injury, disorder, or disease that compromises the ability to carry out the activities of daily living to such a degree that a service member or veteran requires personal or mechanical assistance to leave home or bed, or requires constant supervision to avoid physical harm to self or others.
Service members who participate in the expedited process will be rated by DoD at a combined rating of 100 percent, and the VA will identify the full range of benefits, compensation and specialty care offered by the VA. Dominguez emphasized that the new process is optional for qualifying service members.
"Service members and their families will be empowered to decide, after counseling on the options and potential concerns and benefits, the most appropriate choice for their situation," said Dominguez. The policy provides special consideration and exception for members who retire under the expedited DES process to reenter the service with a waiver, should they subsequently request reentry to the service after recovery and rehabilitation.
The expedited policy differs from the DES pilot program, currently underway to test a new process design eliminating the duplicative and time consuming elements of the current standard disability processes at DoD and VA. Key features of the DES pilot include one medical examination and a single-sourced disability rating. To date, more than 1,000 service members have participated in the pilot during the last 14 months.