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Conference helps DoD and VA close disability benefits gap

Feb. 22, 2011 | By chad.holmes
[caption id="attachment_705" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Robert Gains, president of the Navy Physical Evaluation Board (left) and Bill Wilson, from the Veterans Benefits Administration Office of Disability Benefits, introduce attendees to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. "]
VIRIN: 110218-N-ZZ098-0705
Military and Veterans Affairs representatives from 36 locations gathered in Washington D.C. recently to learn how to work together to eliminate delays in Veteran’s disability benefits for medically-discharged Service members. The attendees came from 33 locations that will be implementing a new Integrated Disability Evaluation System, or IDES, this spring and from three sites that will switch this summer. The Military Services use the IDES to decide if Service members who are wounded, ill, or injured are still able to serve. If they are not, the IDES gives them disability ratings accepted by the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments before they leave the Service. The Veterans Affairs disability rating and counseling help Service members understand the level of disability compensation and benefits that will be available to them after separation. In this way, the IDES closes the benefits gap that transitioning Service members face under the existing disability evaluation process which requires them to complete the Military disability evaluation process and be scheduled for discharge before beginning the process with Veterans Affairs.  It can take as long as eight months after discharge for Service members to find out what veteran’s disability benefits they will qualify for under the existing system. Under IDES, the Service member’s liaison officer refers the case to Veterans Affairs as soon as the Service member enters the IDES, so a coordinator from Veterans Affairs can help the Service member file a Veteran’s disability claim at the start of the Military disability evaluation process and counsel the Service member throughout the process. This makes Veteran’s benefits available one month after discharge, the shortest time allowable under law. The new process was tested in a pilot program at 27 locations nationwide. In thousands of surveys, participants of the integrated system consistently reported higher satisfaction with fairness, customer service, and the overall experience than did participants in the old system.
[caption id="attachment_706" align="alignright" width="225" caption="Nearly 300 Military and Veterans Affairs staff members from 36 IDES expansion locations learn how to work together to close the benefits gap for Service members discharged due to injuries or serious illnesses. Congressional staffers joined the audience as well. The IDES has received close oversight from a variety of committees. "]
VIRIN: 110218-N-ZZ098-0706
Based on the success of the pilot program, Defense and Veterans Affairs leaders ordered the integrated system be available to all Service members by October 2011.  In December 2010 and January 2011, 28 locations made the transition to the IDES. Another 24 are scheduled to adopt the new system by March.  Military and Veterans Affairs staff from each site attended expansion conferences like the one held last week for the 33 locations that will transition this spring and the three that will transition this summer At the expansion conferences, the Military and Veterans Affairs staff who will implement the IDES on the ground at an expansion location form into a team and begin establishing a working relationship. They work together, with the help of experts from both departments, to complete a comprehensive site assessment checklist. The checklist was developed and fine-tuned through two expansions of the pilot program, and subsequent implementations of the IDES. Experts provide training, and help the teams find solutions to any gaps or deficiencies they identify during the conference.  Throughout the process, senior officials from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs track the progress of every expansion location. No location gets the go-ahead to make the switch until everything is in place.