New program expedites benefits for the wounded
January 24, 2009
WASHINGTON — Severely injured combat troops could bypass months of waiting for veterans benefits under a new program unveiled Thursday by the Defense Department.
The Expedited Disability Evaluation System Process, a cooperative effort between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, would allow troops with “catastrophic” combat injuries to move from active-duty to veteran status within three or four months, making them eligible for veterans benefits immediately.
Typically, that process can take more than a year, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. About 200 troops a year could be affected by the change.
In a statement, acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel Michael Dominguez said the move is designed to help servicemembers and their families “focus on the essentials of recovery, reintegration, employment and independent living.”
Only troops who would receive a 100 percent disability rating under VA rules will be considered for the speedier process. By moving them from active-duty care to the VA, officials hope those servicemembers will be able to move home quicker, taking advantage of veterans’ benefits like at-home medical assistance.
Lainez said the expedited shift will take place only after counseling sessions with representatives from both departments, to make sure troops make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
“Cost was not a factor in developing this program,” she said. “The focus was to accelerate members to the full range of entitled VA benefits, compensation and recovery care.”
Troops who leave active duty under the program may be given special consideration to re-enter the service after their recovery, if they choose. Defense officials would have to grant a waiver for any such request.
The new DES process is separate from a pilot program run by the departments to eliminate duplicative injury evaluations. More than 1,000 servicemembers have taken part in that pilot in the last 14 months, which trims the time to outprocess from one year to about eight months.