Friday, January 23, 2009

Severely injured get new disability process

Severely injured get new disability process

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jan 22, 2009 16:01:02 EST

The most severely injured service members now can head straight to the Veterans Affairs Department disability retirement system, rather than first having to go through the Defense Department system — potentially cutting months of paperwork and launching their benefits that much sooner.

The new system, announced Jan. 22, applies to troops with so-called “catastrophic” conditions — anyone who would automatically receive a combined 100 percent rating for all his injuries or illnesses, based on the Veterans Administration Schedule for Rating Disabilities.

“This is for people who are catastrophically injured,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, including those who were injured “in the line of duty as a direct result of armed conflict.”

The injuries or illnesses must be permanent and compromise “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,” the Defense Department said in announcing the new program.

Rather than going through a physical within the member’s service branch, and then the subsequent medical and physical evaluation board processes, service members eligible for the new process will go through one physical at VA.

VA then will provide a rating, as well as determine benefits, compensation and specialty care.

However, the new program also allows service members to rejoin the military with a waiver if they successfully recover and complete rehabilitation.

A similar program exists for service members involved in a broader pilot project. In that system, members at designated bases who volunteer to take part also go through one physical examination and are rated by VA for their injuries and illnesses.

So far, more than 1,000 troops have completed that option over the past 14 months.

That program, which began at three major military medical centers in the Washington, D.C., area in late 2007, is in the midst of a gradual expansion to 19 more installations through May
Severely injured get new disability process

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