Late Breaking News
Disability Evaluation Waits Up Despite Efforts to Speed Process
IDES Processing Time
“Now that the joint system has been implemented nationwide, I have to say that I am far from convinced the departments have implemented a disability evaluation process that is truly transparent, consistent or expeditious,” Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) told VA and DoD officials at the hearing.
Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) said he thought the number of troops in this process “who are administratively discharged, or court-martialed or who are dying from unnatural causes, including suicides and overdoses raises,” raised “serious questions about what the impact these delays may be having on the personal well-being” of troops.
VA and DoD officials conceded that more work remains to be done on the system.
“It is a system, while initially designed and conceived to be one that was smooth and transparent and easy; we have not achieved that result,” said Jo Ann Rooney, principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
She told the committee that the departments were committed to finding solutions to improve the system and that progress was being made. She said the Army recently hired 1,218 civilians to staff the IDES in anticipation of current and future spikes in utilization.
Improvements will be in place this summer to the VA’s Veterans Tracking Application, which is the system used to track the completion of IDES cases. This is expected not only to speed up the process but also to allow the VA to identify inconsistencies in IDES examinations, officials said.
John Gingrich, VA chief of staff, told the committee that the disability evaluation process, “has come a long way” since 2007. He pointed out that the lag time between a servicemember separating from DoD due to disability and receiving his or her first VA disability payment has been reduced to 30 to 60 days. The goal is no more than 30 days.
“Our biggest achievement to date is closing the benefit gap. Servicemembers no longer wait six to nine months to receive compensation they earned,” he said.
Members of the committee seemed less than impressed at the pace of improvement.
“I have heard the most glowing progress reports from both of you,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told DoD and VA officials. “Then I get the realities that the days have not changed. You have met some improvement in certain areas. I commend you on that … but the reality is that we have a broken system five years into it.”
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) said the statistics of lag time are “nearly embarrassing.”
“The concerning thing for me is that I don’t hear anything today that makes me feel we will turn the corner here,” he said.