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The Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Departments are "moving aggressively" to put in place a new, faster, simpler disability evaluation system for wounded warriors at 141 military installations in the U.S. and abroad.
A three-year test proved the new system to be "faster, fairer and more efficient" than the system it replaces, Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told Congress in mid-March.
The new system was designed to eliminate the duplicative and often confusing elements of the separate disability processes previously operated by VA and the military. It employs a model that features a streamlined exam process using VA protocols and a single disability rating to be issued by VA.
One of the principal goals of the new system is to ease service members' transition to veteran status so they can quickly access VA benefits and compensation.
The test program was launched in November 2007 at the three major military treatment facilities in the national capital region — Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District of Columbia, the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md., and the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Over the next two years, it expanded to more than two dozen installations and worked so well that senior Pentagon and VA officials decided in July to draw up plans to permanently implement it worldwide as the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. That planning process began in October, and the official transition from the test program to IDES took place on Dec. 31.
Today, IDES is operational at 54 military installations, with more than two dozen others scheduled to come on line within the next few weeks, Pentagon officials said. The goal is to have all 141 major military medical facilities in the U.S. and abroad using IDES by the end of September, Stanley said.
As in the test program, IDES centers on the idea that wounded, injured or ill service members should get a single set of physical disability exams conducted according to VA protocols, have their disability ratings prepared by VA, and have their cases simultaneously processed by both the Pentagon and VA to reduce the wait time for delivery of disability benefits.
Using VA's disability ratings protocols, DoD determines a member's fitness for duty and compensates for unfitting conditions incurred in the line of duty, while VA compensates for all disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service that merit a disability rating of 10 percent or higher.
To minimize lag time in benefits during the transition from military to VA care, IDES requires both the Pentagon and VA to complete their disability determinations before a service member is separated from active duty, Stanley said.
As of March 6, a total of 19,382 service members have gone through the IDES process, with 6,082 completing the program by medical separation, retirement, or return to duty and 12,818 remaining enrolled, Stanley said.
"Taking care of our wounded, ill and injured service members is one of the highest priorities of the [Defense] Department, the service secretaries and the service chiefs," he said. "Reforming unnecessary bureaucratic processes is crucial to ensuring service members receive, in a timely manner, the care and benefits to which they are entitled."
While IDES is a "major improvement" over the legacydisability evaluation system, Stanley said Pentagon and VA officials continue to explore new potential improvements to shorten the overall length of the process from its current goal of 295 days.
"In addition, the departments are also looking closely at stages of the disability evaluation system that are outside of timeliness tolerances, and developing options to bring these stages within goal," he said. "We are committed to working closely with Congress in exploring new initiatives that can further advance the efficiency and effectiveness of the disability evaluation process.
Locations where IDES was in use as of March 28
Alabama: Maxwell Air Force Base
Alaska: Eielson Air Force Base; Elmendorf Air Force Base; Fort Richardson, Fort Wainwright
California: Beale Air Force Base; Camp Pendleton; Edwards Air Force Base; Los Angeles Air Force Base; Marine Corps Air Station Twentynine Palms; Naval Air Station Lemoore; Naval Medical Center San Diego; Travis Air Force Base; Vandenberg Air Force Base
Colorado: Fort Carson
District of Columbia: Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Florida: MacDill Air Force Base; Naval Air Station Jacksonville; Naval Medical Center Jacksonville; Patrick Air Force Base
Georgia: Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, Moody Air Force Base; Robins Air Force Base
Hawaii: Hickam Air Force Base; Naval Station Pearl Harbor; Tripler Army Medical Center
Idaho: Mountain Home Air Force Base
Kansas: Fort Riley
Louisiana: Fort Polk
Maryland: Andrews Air Force Base; Fort Meade; Bethesda National Naval Medical Center
Nevada: Nellis Air Force Base
New York: Fort Drum
North Carolina: Camp Lejeune, Fort Bragg, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point; Pope Air Force Base; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base
Oklahoma: Vance Air Force Base
South Carolina: Charleston Air Force Base; Naval Weapons Station Charleston; Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort; Shaw Air Force Base
Texas: Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Hood
Virginia: Fort Belvoir; Langley Air Force Base; Marine Corps Base Quantico; Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
Washington: Fairchild Air Force Base; Fort Lewis; McChord Air Force Base; Naval Air Station Whidbey Island; Naval Medical Center Bremerton
Locations slated to begin using IDES in the next few weeks
Alabama: Fort Rucker
Arizona: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base; Luke Air Force Base
Colorado: Buckley Air Force Base; Peterson Air Force Base; U.S. Air Force Academy
Georgia: Fort Gordon
Montana: Malmstrom Air Force Base
New Mexico: Cannon Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base; Kirtland Air Force Base
South Carolina: Fort Jackson
Texas: Dyess Air Force Base; Goodfellow Air Force Base; Lackland Air Force Base; Laughlin Air Force Base; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi; Randolph Air Force Base; Sheppard Air Force Base
Utah: Hill Air Force Base
Virginia: Fort Eustis, Fort Lee
Wyoming: F.E. Warren Air Force Base