Before 2007, all military members faced additional physical evaluations and disability ratings after leaving the military to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While both the DoD and VA use the same rating tool, the VASRD, each had a different physical exam process. Additionally, they came to their own decision on percentages of disability to award as a result of the exam, sometimes leading to differences between VA and the DoD rating of the same injury or illness. The additional requirements led to delays in receiving VA benefits.
The President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, sometimes called the Dole-Shalala Report, recommended removing this dual-evaluation process and applying one medical exam and one rating determination by VA that the DoD could use for determining fitness at the PEB. In November 2007, the DoD and VA initiated a joint DES Pilot program in the National Capital Region (NCR) to improve the timelines, effectiveness and transparency of the DES review process. The DoD and VA have reviewed the results of the first full year of the DES Pilot and decided the pilot was successful enough in the National Capital Region to justify expanding the program beyond the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. On June 1, 2009; the DES Pilot Program was expanded to Fort Carson.
The pilot program allows military members to file a VA disability claim when they are referred to the DES. In the pilot program, the DoD relies on VA to perform the full medical exam used by the MEB and PEB to determine if the member meets service retention standards and, later, by the PEB to determine if the member is fit to remain in the service. VA provides a disability rating for each condition found during the medical exam, and the PEB uses these ratings to determine the type of separation or retirement for which the member is eligible.
Although the DoD and VA expect the pilot program to be faster and fairer, you should understand that, even in the pilot program, there are still differences in the final, combined DoD and VA disability percentage. The DoD, by law, can only consider conditions that are unfitting when determining disability ratings, while VA determines disability ratings for all service-connected conditions, even the ones that would not result in a finding of unfit for continued military service. The DoD uses the VA disability percentages for each condition, but may have a different combined disability rating than VA awards because conditions that are not unfitting are not considered in the DoD calculations.