Share Your Story: Marine SSgt Adam Foutz Navigates the Disability Evaluation System

US Marine SGgt (Ret.) Adam Foutz and family

US Marine SGgt (Ret.) Adam Foutz and family

In 2009, Marine SSgt Adam Foutz was looking forward to transferring from his duty station in Okinawa, Japan to Nashville, Tennessee. However, shortly after returning to the US, he noticed major changes in his health and had lost over 20 pounds in a few short weeks. At first, he attributed these changes to diet, exercise habits, and lifestyle, but it was not long before he was diagnosed with a chronic condition that would limit his ability to perform his military duties in the Marines. After diagnosis in 2011, he worked with his doctors and command to continue the pursuit of his health and career goals.  However, it was not until after he had to leave Drill Instructor School in 2012 that Foutz realized the severity of his condition. “I tried to do what I could to maintain competitiveness in my field. In 2013 I graduated from Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival, which led to a relapse and more follow-on treatment. That next year, my doctor sat down with my wife and me and told us I should expect to find a new career outside of the military.” Foutz said “My goal was to become a drill instructor and then go on to be a Marine Officer through the Enlisted Commissioning Program. After numerous talks with my family, my command, and military doctors, it became a reality that those goals would have to change.” In December of 2014 Foutz started a more aggressive treatment, but this treatment did not improve his condition and his physician then referred him into the Disability Evaluation System.

The Department of Defense’s Disability Evaluation System (DES) determines if a service member who has sustained a wound, illness, or injury is fit for duty.  Though Foutz had heard about the DES through his peers, he didn’t know much about it “I thought that it was an automatic career-ender. Some people told me it would take a long time to go through the [DES] process; some told me it would be quick. I had no idea what believe, so immediately after receiving my DES brief from my Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Office, I went directly to the lawyer that was provided to help me to understand the process my role.” Foutz admits that the process of going through the medical and physical evaluation board was emotional at times, often torn between wanting to complete the process and wanting to stay on active duty. However, his understanding of the services and resources available to him helped shape it into a positive experience. “The DES is really an amazing process, you have resources available to you and the option to voice your concerns and case throughout.  The integration with the Department of Veterans Affairs helps streamline care and benefits; which really helps to relieve a lot of that initial stress of the unknown.”

When asked his advice for Service members just entering the DES, he said “Don’t worry about the process itself, it’s going to happen – just focus on getting better. One way of doing that is to be an informed individual of the DES process. Understand what your role is and how your IDES attorney, and Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer can help – but you have to be your own advocate. Ask questions, understand that the system is set up for your wellbeing and know that the process is facts based. The resources are there for your success, but it’s imperative that you take the time to understand those resources, and utilize them as you navigate the DES process. Don’t let your case get to the MEB and PEB if you feel your case isn’t properly documented. Everything is based on the information you provide, so utilize your PEBLO and IDES attorney along the way.”

Prior to SSgt Foutz being medically retired in February of 2015, he was able to obtain his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Master’s Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.  With the assistance of his Employment Coordinator he was able to obtain a career as a contractor for the Department of Defense doing information technology for the Office of Warrior Care Policy.

Question about the Disability Evaluation System? Visit: www.warriorcare.mil/disabilityevaluation