FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The Integrated Disability Evaluation System was created after officials in Washington decided to examine the healthcare system that looked after the nation’s veterans in the wake of abuse allegations at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center in 2007.
A Soldier in Transition watches a formation run. (File photo)
The current system is an integrated effort between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs and is designed to streamline the process of treatment and transitioning for wounded or injured veterans. Now, Soldiers who are on active duty, but have been determined to be medically incapable of continuing their service have begun using the new system and their reviews have been for the most part favorable.
“From the beginning, when I first found out that I was being med boarded, the process was really slow,” explained Sgt. Ronald Eaddy, a former Fort Bragg Soldier, who is currently medically retired from active duty. “Once I got into the ‘fast track’ program, which is supposed the expedite the process and when I got with my physical evaluation board liaison officer, or PEBLO, everything he lined out for me was spot on.
“From the moment that I met with him in February until April, everything that he outlined for me went really smooth. I didn’t have to call him for anything,” he added.
According to Lt. Col. Arthur I. Campbell, chief, Department of Deployment Health at Womack Army Medical Center, and director of IDES at Fort Bragg, the program that Eaddy referred to is actually called the Complexity-based Medical Evaluation Program. Campbell said the program was developed at Fort Bragg to expedite the MEB process for Soldiers who were being evaluated.
“We kind of laid out the process. We had everybody involved, including DoD and the VA. We went through and painstakingly looked at every single step, from the handoff of the packet. Everything that occurs in the process. The goal was to take this MEB phase, which is the first 100 days of the IDES process and see if we can’t condense that,” Campbell explained.
He pointed out that the process for undergoing the medical board had to remain the same, but officials wanted to ensure that it was done in a shorter amount of time.
The first step was deciding which Soldiers were qualified to go through the process.
“Obviously an E-7 (sergeant first class) with 15 years in the Army couldn’t be expected to transition out that quickly,” Campbell said. “So, the criteria we set was that it needs to be a Soldier with less than 10 years of service with no more than two service-disqualifying conditions.
“It’s basically on a 5-point scale — they get points for the years of service; they get points for however many service-disqualifying conditions. There are additional points if they’re assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion and whether they are Guard or Reserve, they also get additional points. If they score three or less on that five-point scale, they are candidates for the program,” Campbell explained.
Eaddy said he was very satisfied with the program, once he began the CBMP process.
“Everything that my PEBLO said was going to happen occurred as planned,” he said.
He pointed out that once he was assigned to the CBMP program, he wasn’t required to take the same path as others who were trying to leave the service, but were not assigned to the program.
“We were separated, based on the reason that we were being medically boarded,” explained Eaddy, who departed service because of reactive airway disease. He said they were individuals within a group, based on the severity of their ailment, but despite being the first group to participate in the program, his group still made a smooth transition.
“Before I went through the med board, I had a Soldier who went through the med board, but he never went through the process that I went through and it took him almost a year to get his paperwork together,” Eaddy said. “I started my MED board in August 2012 and I was finished and on transitional leave by the end of February.”
Eaddy said the biggest advantage of the IDES program is the organization. He found the process to be lengthy and cumbersome when trying to do everything alone with no guidance.
“Before I was enrolled into the CBMP, I was doing everything on my own, but once I enrolled and met my PEBLO, everything went smoothly,” he said.
Eaddy suggested that the IDES could improve by adding more PEBLOs to deal with the needs of the increasing number of Soldiers who will soon exit the service via medical board.
According to Campbell, that request has already been addressed and the IDES program now has a total of 30 PEBLOs.
Campbell added that the CBMP streamlines the first 100 days of the MEB process to less than 30 days. However, it is not for all cases.
Soldiers with complex or multiple medical problems would not be best served by this program, so they continue in the routine IDES process.
The CBMP was specifically designed to preserve every step and all due process for Soldiers. It simply condenses appointments into a very short period of time. Fort Bragg has had more than 400 Soldiers complete this process in the 12 months since its implementation and Soldiers seem pleased with the program.
“Fort Bragg continues to meet or exceed all standards set by the Army and DoD for IDES. More than 90 percent of Soldiers complete the local portion of the IDES process (the “MEB phase”) in less than 100 days, which is the DOD standard. The average time for completion on Fort Bragg is 65 days,” Campbell said.
In a previous interview with the Paraglide, Campbell pointed out the importance of leaders on post having an understanding the IDES and CBMP.
“Commanders and senior NCOs (noncommissioned officers) at all levels are required to attend classes, which educate them on the IDES process as part of the Company Commander and First Sergeant Course and Pre-Command Course. Units are asked to ensure Soldiers are available for all MEB and VA appointments and to help manage the transition process for Soldiers,” Campbell explained.
Fort Bragg, which is one of the Army’s premier posts, continues to lead the way in ensuring that Soldiers’ and veterans’ needs are met during their medical evaluation board and the transition that often follows the MEB findings.
In the past year, the post has:
More than doubled the number of MEB providers and VA examiners dedicated to IDES
More than quadrupled the number of administrative staff in support of IDES
Co-located all IDES personnel (MEB, VA, admin, Army Wounded Warrior Program and MEB counsel) at the Soldier Support Center in order to better serve Soldiers.
“Most importantly, this has been accomplished while continuing to allow every Soldier complete due process and while maintaining quality, as less than one percent of all cases are returned from the PEB for us to conduct any additional studies or provide any clarification,” he added.
Currently, Fort Bragg has 1,647 Soldiers undergoing the medical evaluation board.
Campbell said the CBMP is in the process of being implement across the Army.
Reginald Rogers, Paraglide