Service members can incur a wound, illness, and/or injury at any time, whether serving in combat operations, during training evolutions, or at any other time on the job or even after hours. With the aid of medical care and adequate time to heal, many service members can recover and return to full and unrestricted duty. Unfortunately, some service members may suffer a long-lasting or permanent disability from a wound, illness, or injury that may affect their ability to return to full military duties. In this case, their treating physician will refer them into the Disability Evaluation System (DES). The DES is the Department of Defense’s (DOD) mechanism for determining whether a service member will return to duty, medically separate, or medically retire due to disability.
The DES process contains four key elements: Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), service member counseling, and final disposition. The MEB documents the medical status and duty limitations of service members referred for disability evaluation. It determines whether service members have a medical condition or conditions that may prevent them from reasonably performing the duties of their office, grade, rank, or rating (fail to meet service-specific medical retention standards). The PEB determines whether service members are fit for continued military service. If determined unfit, the PEB determines the service member’s eligibility for and/or level of disability benefits. Service member counseling informs service members about the disability process, possible outcomes, and the significance and consequences of the determinations being made, as well as associated rights, benefits, and entitlements. The last element, final disposition, involves a service secretary-designee reviewing and finalizing the PEB’s determination.
The Military Departments use two processes to evaluate service members to determine their ability to continue military service: the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) or the Legacy Disability Evaluation System (LDES).
For complete DOD Instructions and DOD Manuals pertaining to the Disability Evaluation System, please visit the Policies section of our website.