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A Pentagon advisory panel on wounded service members is recommending that the Defense Department scrap the disability evaluation system it rolled out across the military just three years ago.
The Integrated Disability Evaluation System, or IDES, merged separate Defense and Veterans Affairs department medical evaluation programs into a single process with a goal of streamlining the system and shortening wait times for decisions.
But under IDES, the medical discharge process has become more complicated, leading to delays in transition from the service, confusion among those in the system, and in some cases, problems receiving medical care, according to a Recovering Warrior Task Force report released Friday.
“The current IDES is fundamentally flawed and DoD should replace it,” task force members wrote.
The panel has made recommendations on improving IDES since 2012, from suggesting DoD and VA build an integrated electronic health record system to recommending that family members be allowed to accompany injured personnel to IDES orientations.
But the recommendation to completely scrap the system is the task force’s strongest proposal to date.
“Emphasis should be placed on return to work as soon as possible after injury, including separation and transition to civilian employment when injuries clearly indicate the service member cannot be retained in the military,” according to the report.
The task force, whose members include Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm. Matthew Nathan and retired Maj. Gen. Richard Stone, former Army deputy surgeon general, was established by Congress in 2009 to examine and make recommendations on military policies and programs regarding injured or ill troops.
In its five years, the task force has issued four reports containing 87 recommendations. The 2013-14 report is the group’s last; by congressional mandate, the RWTF disbands in November.
The final report contains 10 recommendations — less than half that of previous reports — and focuses on issues that the 13-member panel found to be the most important.
“This volume represents a final opportunity to potentially influence the future effectiveness and course of recovering warrior care,” the report states.
Number one on the list was IDES.
Other recommendations advise DoD to improve the Office of Warrior Care Policy, establish policies that integrate DoD and VA transition programs and take steps to ensure that the Pentagon and military services have programs that meet transitioning members’ expectations of post-service employment.
Among the group’s primary concerns is the law concerning patient privacy, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which the task force said can hinder family involvement in a service member’s recovery.
Noting that head injuries or post-traumatic stress often are accompanied by memory loss and/or organizational challenges, task force members said DoD should take steps to mitigate barriers that keep caregivers from discussing their loved ones’ cases with doctors and other health care providers.
“RWTF strongly believes that, for communicating with recovering warrior family caregivers about their personal needs, HIPAA is irrelevant,” they wrote.
Whether any of the recommendations will be implemented remains to be seen: Of the 77 recommendations contained in previous reports, 15 have been met, with the remainder either in process or under consideration by DoD.
In its last report, task force members thanked the troops, family members, DoD and VA civilians and community members who support injured service members, veterans and their families.
“RWTF is greatly indebted to the thousands of stakeholders who helped RWTF accomplish its mandate. ... Our nation will forever be grateful to them and to all transitioning veterans for choosing to serve,” wrote co-chairs Nathan and Suzanne Crockett-Jones.
The full report can be found online at http://rwtf.defense.gov/Reports/FY2014ANNUALREPORT.aspx.