07 July 2012

Military Invites Medical Retirees 2001-2009 to Apply for Upgrade!

 Posted by the American Legion in their May magazine, by our generation's Ernie Pile, Mr. Tom Philpott. Tom was the man who first brought our C-123 Agent Orange to the nation's attention in his Gannett article back in May '11

by Tom Philpott, Military.COM
About 75,000 veterans medically separated from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009, with a service disability rating below 30 percent will be getting a letter this year from a special board.
 It will invite them to have their military disability rating reviewed for possible upgrade. And it’s an invitation they should accept.
  But they also don’t have to wait for the letter.  These veterans can apply now, to something called the Physical Disability Review Board, to have their ratings reviewed.  The online link is www.health.mil/pdbr.   The application is only a page long and there is no chance of a rating downgrade.
The special mailing is acknowledgement by the Department of Defense that too few qualified veterans even know the PDBR exists or understand what a ratings upgrade would mean in lifetime compensation and benefits.
It’s a particularly important opportunity for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan who believe they got low-balled on their original rating by their medical or disability review board. 
At stake, if ratings are upgraded to 30 percent or higher, is eligibility for a disability annuity back to the date of the original disability decision.  Payments would have to be reduced for a while to recoup whatever separation pay was provided at discharge.  But also at stake for eligible applicants is access to lifetime military health care for vets and spouses, discount shopping on base and any other privileges tied to  “retiree” status.
Congress came to realize several years ago that the services had been medically discharging many thousands of veterans using internal rules that under rated disabilities.  They either rated only a single “unfitting” condition, leaving other conditions for VA review, or used modified rating tables that were more stringent on certain key conditions than tables used by the VA.
As part of a legislative reform package for wounded warriors, Congress ordered the services to begin rating every unfitting medical condition found by disability review boards and to rate those conditions, without exception, using the Veterans Administration Schedule for Ratings Disabilities (VASRD).
Importantly, Congress also ordered retroactive relief.  The Department of Defense had to establish the PDBR to reconsider any ratings below 30 percent given to vets medically separated back to 9/11.  It didn’t make PDRB review automatic, however.  Veterans need to apply for reconsideration.
The PDBR began accepting applications in June 2009.  A full review at one time took 18 months on average.  That is now down to 13 months.  But 45 percent of completed cases result in recommendations to service secretaries that ratings be raised to 30 percent or higher, the threshold to gain retiree status.  To date, the secretary of the Air Force has accepted 100 percent of PDBR recommendations, the Army 98 percent and the Navy 93.
But PDBR President Michael F. LoGrande told us the overall number of applications to date is only 2700, or 3.5 percent of the potential pool of eligible veterans.  That is far lower than expected when PDBR was launched.
For the Department of Defense, Air Force administers the PDBR.  Until this year, it relied on periodic news reports, occasional press releases and close contact with veterans’ affairs offices in some larger states to inform and encourage veterans to file applications.
The planned mailing, being coordinated jointly by VA and DoD, is expected to be more effective, enough so that the PDBR wants it done in phases to avoiding swamping the board and frustrating applicants.  LoGrande first sought permission for a direct mailing two years ago.  Because of budget constraints and other priorities, it didn’t happen.
By last summer Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) became concerned that too few eligible veterans were seeking rating reviews.  He wrote to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki urging VA to conduct a direct mailing and Shinseki agreed.
The first batch of letters was to be mailed at the end of January to 15,000 veterans.  The PDBR then wants time to judge the response rate and decide how staff must grow, particularly in physicians needed to review of thousands of medical records and assess proper ratings.  Once resource demand is known, LoGrande expects 15,000 more letters to be mailed about every two months until all eligible vets with current addresses in the VA files get a letter explaining why the PDBR might be important to them.
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Tom Philpott
Military Update

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