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American Forces Press Service

Disability Evaluation System Needs 'Top-Down' Overhaul, Officials Say

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2007 – One of the Defense Department’s top officials said today he is not surprised that servicemembers get different disability ratings from each of the services, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

They are three different systems governed by their own sets of laws and rate disabilities using scales unique to each department, said Dr. David S. C. Chu, the defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness.

Each system has “fundamentally different approaches to the basis on which you should rate the individual. It is, therefore, not surprising that they reach different answers,” Chu said.

“From the individual’s perspective, this is surely complex … and frustrating in its character,” he said.

Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee today, Chu expressed confidence that, with legislative support, the system could be fixed.

DoD currently is revising its disability evaluation system. Each service manages its own evaluation process within the framework of the DoD system.

The Assistant Defense Secretary for health affairs, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., said servicemembers deserve fair, consistent and timely determinations.

“Complex procedures should be streamlined or removed. The system must not be adversarial, and people should not have to go through a maze or prove themselves to get the benefits they deserve,” Winkenwerder said.

He said now is the time to question the system and make changes needed for servicemembers and their families.

“It’s turning back to the bureaucracy and saying, ‘Why can’t we do it this way,’” Winkenwerder said. “If it’s not meeting the needs of the customer, it’s not getting the job done”.

The Army’s top officer said that now is the time for a “top-down” overhaul.

“There is an opportunity here that I hope we take. That is to fix things comprehensively,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said.

“This isn’t about painting things and dealing with mildew and fixing some administrative processes,” he said.

About 900 active-duty soldiers are in medical holding units around the Army, said Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley. About 3,200 reserve-component soldiers are in a holdover status, including about 1,800 who have returned home and use local hospital systems to complete their care.

In fiscal 2006, service eligibility board caseloads were 13,162 for the Army, 5,684 for the naval services, and 4,139 for the Air Force. In 2001, the numbers were: 7,218 for the Army, 4,999 for the naval services and 2,816 in the Air Force.

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