Whether veterans with disabilities pursue employment can significantly affect their eligibility for Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. In the case of military disability retirement, this is particularly true. The informal physical evaluation board, or IPEB, comprises at minimum two members. This board determines if a service member’s medical conditions render them unfit for duty.
Factors Affecting Ratings
A service member’s disability rating determines how much retirement pay they’ll receive every month. The first step is an informal physical evaluation board (IPEB), which decides if a servicemember’s condition or conditions make them unfit for duty. Suppose you’re seriously injured in the military while on active duty. In that case, you will be examined by the physical evaluation board to assess the extent of your injuries and determine your eligibility for benefits and potential disability status. After an IPEB decides that a servicemember is medically unfit for duty, the next step is the formal physical evaluation board (FPEB). FPEB consists of two or three members: a physician who works as the Board President and two line officers. Generally, the FPEB upholds the IPEB’s initial decision. However, a servicemember can request that FPEB reexamine their case. For example, if a servicemember believes they have a secondary condition not covered by the FPEB’s original rating. This could increase their rating, which would result in higher monetary benefits. The FPEB considers several factors when reviewing a claim, including the symptoms and treatment history of a veteran’s disability. The FPEB also reviews the body part and whether it affects their ability to perform daily activities and function.
When the MEB concludes that a Service Member is Unfit for Duty, it enters the case into the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. This process is known as the PEB across all branches of the military. A Department of Defense Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer will examine you and perform more tests. The PEB will review the evidence and decide whether to allow you back into the military or to discharge you under certain conditions.
2008, Congress established the Physical Disability Board of Review to ensure fairness and accuracy in combined disabilities ratings for service members medically separated from the military before 2008. This law also changed how the VA rates certain ailments, which resulted in more Soldiers and Veterans being eligible for TDRL and permanent disability retirement instead of medical separation with severance pay. Unfortunately, a 2018 OIG report found that VBA employees often request unnecessary medical reexaminations. During the six-month sampling period, OIG found that 19,800 reexaminations were superfluous and cost the agency over $10.1 million.
The informal physical evaluation board (IPEB) examines a service member’s medical records and decides whether their condition makes them unfit for military duty. A Service Member with an unfavorable IPEB decision can request a reconsideration of their rating by contacting the DDS medical examiners. During this process, the examiners must review additional medical evidence and contact sources that were not reached at the initial level.
If a Service Member is still unfit for military duty, they can file an appeal with the formal physical evaluation board (FPEB). The FPEB has three members: a physician, a line officer and a service branch representative who acts as the Board President. The FPEB can change a service member’s military disability rating before their medical separation, but only up to 30% or more. An increased rating allows a service member to qualify for additional benefits such as retirement and health care. This includes lifetime disability retirement benefits and the Survivor’s Benefit Plan insurance for their dependents.
When service members disagree with their military disability rating, they can ask the Physical Disability Board of Review to look at it. This can lead to increased military disability retirement pay, which is important for access to medical benefits and other services while they are still in the military. The PDBR is the highest level of appeal for a servicemember in the military. This board comprises a civilian physician, a line officer and a military branch representative who serves as the Board President. If the PDBR agrees with the original decision, the servicemember’s military disability rating stays the same. If the PDBR decides that the servicemember’s medical condition makes them unfit for duty, the service member gets a new military disability rating. This rating will determine how much money they will receive monthly after their medical separation from the military. This will also affect their eligibility for veterans benefits.