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Army shortens medical reclassification process

Feb. 24, 2013 - 09:56AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 24, 2013 - 09:56AM  |  
Dr. Judy Stephens examines Sgt. 1st Class Richard Hanson. The Army has streamlined its lengthy process for deciding whether injured soldiers are fit to stay in their job, must reclassify to another job or should leave the Army, officials said.
Dr. Judy Stephens examines Sgt. 1st Class Richard Hanson. The Army has streamlined its lengthy process for deciding whether injured soldiers are fit to stay in their job, must reclassify to another job or should leave the Army, officials said. (Alison Kohler / Army)
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The Army has streamlined its lengthy process for deciding whether injured soldiers are fit to stay in their job, must reclassify to another job or should leave the Army, officials said.

The new Military Occupational Specialty Administrative Retention Review (MAR2) process, in place as a pilot program for more than a year, replaces the MOS Medical Retention Board. The new program is meant to shrink a process that took up to five months to less than six weeks.

The new policy rescinds Army Regulation 600-60 and is outlined in Milper Message 13-036, dated Feb. 5, and Army Directive 2012-18, dated Aug. 23, 2012.

Under the new process, when the installation retention office receives a soldier's medical profile, it must send that profile to the soldier's battalion commander, who then has 14 duty days to recommend whether the soldier stays, reclassifies or goes to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System and exits the force.

That commander sends the soldier's packet to Human Resources Command's Retention and Reclassification Branch. The branch has another 14 duty days to return a decision to the battalion career counselor, taking into account both the soldier's preferences and the Army's needs. The commander must notify the soldier within two days of that decision.

However, the process has tended to go much quicker than the total time allotted, according to Sandra Rayas, a senior reclassification analyst with HRC.

"When a soldier gets a profile, we get it within a week, and within 48 hours, they have a decision," she said. "The commander knows if a soldier will change their MOS or not."

How it works

In fiscal 2012, the pilot program processed the packets of 672 soldiers; 420 stayed in their MOS, 148 were reclassified; and 104 were referred to a Medical Evaluation Board.

The reclassifications are made based on a doctor's profile determination (either a permanent P3 or P4) of the person's physical limitations and MOS proponents' standards for a given job.

To remain in their MOS, a soldier must be medically fit to perform the duties required of his primary MOS "in a worldwide field or austere environment," according to the directive. Soldiers who do not qualify for reclassification will be referred to IDES.

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"You either meet the standard or don't," Jim Bragg, chief of the Retention and Reclassification Branch at HRC.

Although each case is decided individually, in a more physically demanding MOS, even a minor injury could result in a reclassification. A less demanding administrative job might be easier to retain with an injury.

There are backstops to the process. At the discretion of HRC, an enlisted soldier may have a proponent waiver processed on their behalf before a decision is rendered. A soldier may also appeal an MAR2 decision within 10 days through the installation retention office.

"The important thing is that moving this to HRC is not disadvantaging the soldier," Bragg said. "If anything, they're getting an answer sooner on their status in the Army."

Battalion career counselors are a key contact for soldiers going through the process, Bragg said. The counselors work with the commanders and counsel the soldier, who is able to make a statement about his or her desires.

The company commander and battalion commander must each make a recommendation in the soldier's case, extra work to be sure, but worth it to have a better grasp on their soldiers' ability to deploy, Bragg said.

"When I went out to talk to commanders, they didn't like it at first. But when I go back and talk to them, they love it," he said.

Soldiers' satisfaction with the process tends to depend on the outcome, Bragg said. They continue to have input in that process. But because there is no board, it is no longer face to face.

Bragg insisted this was not a way to push soldiers out quicker.

"This program doesn't kick you out of the Army," he said. "It gives you a new MOS, keeps you in yours or sends you to the IDES process."

Soldiers are exempt from the MAR2 process if they:

• Are within 90 days of separation, including medical separation.

• Have an approved retirement, including medical retirement.

• Are not qualified in a primary area of concentration or functional area.

• Failed to complete initial active-duty training or Basic Officer Leaders Course.

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• Are pending administrative separation.

• Are assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit or community-based WTU and have not received a return-to-duty memorandum.

MMRB's flaws

According to Bragg, delays abounded under the MMRB. A 2007 study conducted by retired Army Gen. Tommy Franks recommended that the MMRB become an administrative review prior to the MEB.

The MMRB was conducted at every installation, often to different standards, and with poor record-keeping, Bragg said. Further, installations weren't always tracking decisions or whether a soldier had even been to the board.

A soldier would have to produce a memorandum to show that he had been to the board, and commanders didn't know whether the soldier was fully deployable because they couldn't perform a query of the system to see.

The process, from receiving a profile to receiving a decision, took three to five months. Complicating matters were the once-a-month hearings and the red tape involved in obtaining a commanding general's approval on the board's decision, Bragg said.

"Soldiers would have to wait for a board another month, then another month," he said.

A commander couldn't decide whether to deploy a soldier until the decision was made.

A soldier wouldn't know what a profile meant before the board's decision because nobody was assigned to explain it. "You'd have to get a ‘barracks lawyer' to figure it out," Bragg said.

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