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Disabled Air Force vets welcome the IDES during every month

For the past 10 years, the armed forces have had to learn, the hard way, how to deal with increasingly complicated injuries and disabilities. A Wisconsin Air Force base recently hosted a conference about a new system, the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, that could very well serve as a model for private sector long-term disability initiatives.

More than 250 people attended, all members of the team that handles the evaluation process for disabled service members. Base-level physical evaluation board liaison officers and physicians participated in the open forum and shared suggestions for improvements to the new program.

The physicians attended because they recommend injured service members for the evaluation. The PEBLOs take it from there, guiding service members through the disability evaluation system and ensuring the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted.

The new system has streamlined the process of receiving benefits significantly by closing the gap between service separation, which is run by the Defense Department, and the veteran's disability benefits, which are determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The IDES started out as a trial at three bases around the country and has since been implemented throughout the Air Force.

Under the old evaluation process, airmen that were approved for disability benefits waited much longer for their first check. There were multiple physicians and boards involved in the first phase -- determining that the airman could no longer serve. When that process ended, the application for benefits began. People waited months before the benefits kicked in.

In the IDES, there is only one group of tests to determine if an airman is still fit to serve. Both the physicians and the panel that determines if the soldier can still serve use these test results to make their decisions. While the qualification process moves forward, the PEBLO uses the test results to apply for benefits.

Now, the only gap is the first month of separation, a mandatory waiting period. Then, VA benefits kick in, and the veteran can get on with his or her life.

Source: DCMilitary.com, "Program reduces disability benefits waiting period after separation," Eric Grill, Dec. 2, 2011

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