Are You Eligible to Have Your Disability Ratings Upgraded?

Posted in Uncategorized on July 3, 2018

A specific group of medically discharged veterans may be entitled to an adjustment of their disability benefits, retroactive to their medical, thanks to the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act.Are You Eligible to Have Your Disability Ratings Upgraded?

The little-known act, passed a decade ago, is still under-utilized by the more than 77,000 veterans known to be eligible for a review that may result in increased ratings, retroactive retirement benefits and more.

Are You Eligible to Have Your Disability Ratings Upgraded?

If you were medically separated from the U.S. military between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009, with a combined rating of 20% or less, and were not found eligible for retirement, you now have the opportunity to have your disability rating reviewed by the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) to ensure accuracy and fairness. To date, the PDBR has reviewed more than 10,000 applications and hopes to increase this number as its success continues to grow.

The PDBR was legislated by Congress and implemented by the Department of Defense (DoD) after substantial evidence surfaced suggesting that service branches had been low-balling disability ratings given over a specific nine-year period.

As part of an extensive review process, the PDBR uses medical information provided by the veteran’s military department and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) records, including past evaluations and treatments, to ensure that the correct rating has been determined.

Once a review is complete, the PDBR forwards the recommendation to the secretary of the respective branch of the armed services and the final decision to adjust the rating must be approved by the branch (according to the PDBR, recommendations typically are approved). Recommendations are usually set to be retroactive to the original date of separation, and once the rating surpasses 30%, a veteran receives retroactive disability retirement, becomes eligible for TRICARE health insurance and can enjoy other retiree privileges including discount shopping on-base.

The Disability Ratings Review Process

According to a recent article on Military.com interviewing the director of the PDBR, around 42% of applicants receive a recommendation that their original rating be upgraded. The current review process is, on average, eight to 12 months, but still is faster than the 18-24-month wait that was routine in earlier years. The wait for final recommendation is long because of the time it takes to retrieve records, the thoroughness of the review (a PDBR panel of one medical officer and two non-medical officers reviews the original rating decision) and the complexity of the cases. By law, a veteran’s rating cannot be lowered as a result of the review.

In a Military Health System article, PDBR leadership detailed the significant efforts put forth to reach at-risk veterans who may be eligible for a rating review. When the DoD identified the pool of eligible veterans, the VA helped contact most of those veterans by letter (two letters sent with stamped, return envelopes). However, 20,000 letters were returned and marked as undeliverable or with no forwarding address. About 6,300 of the individuals whose letters were returned matched in the VA’s National Homeless Veteran Registry, so in 2014, the PDBR partnered with the VA Homeless Veterans Taskforce to track down as many as possible and help them submit an application to have their cases reviewed. More than 90% of those individuals were contacted and 2,000 elected to apply.

There is currently no date set for the PDBR to cease operations, but veterans are encouraged to apply soon as the more time elapses since original separation, the more difficult it may be to gather all the needed documents.

If an eligible veteran is deceased or incapacitated, a spouse, next of kin, or legal representative may also request the PDBR review.

In order to start a PDBR application or review more than 30 frequently asked questions regarding the process, visit: health.mil/pdbr.

Written by Megan Hammons

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