The Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) is the joint Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) process to determine fitness for duty and disability rating for Service members. DoD determines whether wounded, ill and injured Service members are fit for continued military service and DoD and VA determine appropriate benefits for Service members who are separated or retired for a Service-connected disability. The IDES features a single set of disability medical examinations appropriate for fitness determination by the Military Departments. It also features a single set of disability ratings provided by VA for appropriate use by both departments.
All Service members going through the IDES have a team of subject matter experts—chain of command, physicians, case management specialists, care coordinators, legal counsel, etc.—supporting them through the process. One of these experts includes the DoD Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO). Eligible Service members may also have a Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment or Air Force Wounded Warrior Program Recovery Care Coordinator (RCC), a Navy Safe Harbor Non-medical Care Manager (NMCM), or an Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) Advocate to assist them during their recovery and transition.
The DoD PEBLO is available to counsel and support the Service member and family through the entire IDES process. The PEBLO acts as a liaison between the DoD and VA and introduces Service members to their resources. The PEBLO coordinates all IDES actions between the Service member and his/her commander and the Service member disability evaluation appointments.
The PEBLO keeps track of the Service member IDES case and assembles all the necessary documentation to complete the case file. This includes medical records, narrative summary (NARSUM) of conditions, letters, determinations, statements, reports, etc. This documentation assists in determination of fitness for duty and disability rating.
The PEBLO explains outcomes of each stage, including the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). The MEB is a process designed to determine whether a Service member’s long-term medical condition enables him/her to continue to meet medical retention standards, in accordance with military service regulations. The findings of the MEB are forwarded to the PEB, which formally determines fitness for continued service and eligibility for disability compensation.
The PEBLO ensures that a Service member has all the information he/she needs to make decisions until the return to duty or separation from military service. Service members going through the IDES process, and their family or caregiver, should write down their IDES questions and ask their PEBLO so that they can stay informed and make appropriate decisions. For example, Service members should ask:
- What should I expect from the MEB and the PEB?
- What if I disagree with a doctor?
- What are my rights and entitlements?
The DoD PEBLO has intricate responsibilities, but care coordinators are valuable IDES team members who work in concert with the DoD PEBLO to provide critical support to Service members. If a Service member is eligible, he/she may also have a Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment or Air Force Wounded Warrior Program RCC, Navy Safe Harbor NMCM or an AW2 Advocate for support during recovery and transition, including the IDES process.
“The care coordinator should get to know the PEBLOs at their location,” said Dario Santana, a former PEBLO and RCC. Dario is currently serving as Navy Safe Harbor’s Family Program Coordinator. “Each PEBLO may put their cases together differently. Knowing how they work will help the care coordinator support the PEBLO more efficiently, leading to better support of the Service member.”
The care coordinator can help the PEBLO with ensuring the Service member attends appointments, meetings and transition courses. The care coordinator may also be able to assist in acquiring necessary paperwork for the IDES case file. They can provide additional coaching on the IDES process and assist the Service member with questions they should ask of the PEBLO and physicians.
“The care coordinator should attend multi-disciplinary meetings with the PEBLO and physicians to see where we can help,” said Dario. “The care coordinator can go with the Service member when meeting with the PEBLO and help the Service member keep track of their IDES status.”
Additionally, care coordinators connect Service members with federal and community resources for the successful transition of Service members and their families.
IDES Tips for Service members
The IDES process does require an investment of time from Service members and their families. However, it is important to remember that Service members going through IDES continue to receive full pay and allowances and the support of their military chain of command while the entire process is being completed. Additionally, once separated, Service members can expect to receive their post-service VA benefits much faster without having to go through another lengthy process.
So what should Service members and their families remember when going through the IDES process? Dario recommends these tips for Service members and their families:
- Ask questions and communicate: Don’t be intimidated to ask questions and establish productive communications with your physicians, PEBLO and care coordinators.
- Keep track of your status: Make sure to keep notes on where you are in the IDES so you can ask questions, assist where you can, and take advantage of available resources.
- Participate in Transition Assistance Program (TAP) courses: The Military Services and Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs provide pre-separation counseling, employment workshops, VA benefits briefings, disability benefits briefings and individualized coaching.
For more information, visit these DoD and Military Service IDES and transition resources: