Staff Sgt. Joel Pena
10th Mountain Division Journalist
Despite advances in modern medicine and the best efforts of patients, some Soldiers cannot be returned to full duty status after suffering an injury or illness. In this event, it will be necessary for the Soldier to be referred to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, also known as IDES.
“IDES is the joint venture between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs that aids service members that have a condition – whether it is an illness or an injury – that prevents them from continuing on active duty based upon Army Regulation 40-501,” said Laura Swats-worth, Fort Drum Integrated Disability Evaluation System director.
IDES combines the DOD and VA disability processes and uses a streamlined evaluation for delivery of a total benefits and compensation package.
“The first part of the process is the Medical Evaluation Board,” Swatsworth said. “The whole MEB process – from your referral to a MEB until the day your case file is forwarded to the Physical Evaluation Board – should take about 100 days. We are currently operating on 87 days, so we are doing a pretty good job in getting service members into the system and through to the Physical Evaluation Board.”
The MEB is an informal process made up of at least two physicians who compile, assess and evaluate the Soldier’s medical history and determine how the injury / disease likely will respond to treatment.
However, if the treating physician believes that Soldiers are unable to perform their full military duties, or that they are unlikely to be able to do so within a reasonable period of time (normally 12 months), they will be referred to a MEB at the medical facility where their treatment is being provided.
If a Soldier’s physical condition falls below medical retention standards, the attending physician will refer him or her to the physical evaluation board liaison officer, or PEBLO, to start the MEB.
Since 2009, nearly 3,000 service members at Fort Drum have gone through this process, and currently 867 Soldiers are actively going through the process.
One of the people helping Soldiers transition through this process is Jose “Joe” Duque, physical evaluation board liaison officer.
The PEBLO is one of the most important representatives in the IDES process. From the start of a MEB referral to a Soldier’s return to duty or separation from military service, the PEBLO remains the link between the service member, his or her commander, and the IDES.
The PEBLO is responsible for assembling all of the information that is included in a Soldier’s IDES case file. This includes helping the Soldier initiate VA Form 21-0819, VA / DOD Joint Disability Evaluation Board Claim, and sending it to the military service coordinator.
“Everything that happens during this process goes through the PEBLO,” Duque said. “There are 13 PEBLOs here at Fort Drum, and we are all housed in Bldgs. T-27 and T-28. The typical workload for a PEBLO is around 40 cases, but each of us here has anywhere from 65 to 75 cases at any one time.”
“The best part of our jobs is the service we provide,” Duque commented. “Most of us here have already been on ‘that side of the fence,’ so we know what Soldiers are going through – the anxiety of the transition, especially for Soldiers with Families and small children. We try to help them out in any way we can to alleviate some of that stress and assure them a smooth transition.”
Before separation, Soldiers should stay in contact with their military service coordinator at their medical treatment facility. The MSC will notify the VA regional office of a Soldier’s separation date and track the separation process.
The MSC also will advise Soldiers about their rights to appeal their disability ratings and other post-separation VA processes and will forward the DD Form 214 (Part 3) to the VA rating board.
“Just be patient and keep an open mind,” Swatsworth said. “There are a lot of ‘barracks lawyers’ out there that will tell you things that may not be what reality is. We will do everything in our power to make sure that service members make it through the whole process efficiently (and) appropriately and that all of their issues are addressed.”