FORT CARSON, Colo. – Michael LoGrande, Physical Disability Board of Review director, visited Fort Carson Aug. 9 — the first stop in his nationwide attempt to offer the board to more than 70,000 injured veterans.
The PDBR was established “to review the disability determinations of covered individuals by Physical Evaluation Boards,” according to the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act of 2008. The board began accepting applications in January 2009 from post-9/11 veterans with a disability rating of 20 percent or less.
About 25 percent of post-9/11 veterans reported a service-connected disability in July 2010, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics in March. Nearly a third had a disability rating less than 30 percent. The PDBR re-evaluates records for anyone who served in the armed forces between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009.
“Congress made it incredibly clear to everyone that it’s apparent the services are artificially suppressing disability ratings, across all of the services,” said LoGrande, regarding discussions in 2007. He said PDBR applicants receive an objective, DOD-level review of their previously filed disability ratings.
Ratings of 10 and 20 percent pay out $123 and $243, respectively, per month, according to the latest Veterans Affairs compensation benefits rate tables. After 30 percent, benefits pile up with the possibility of increased payments, dependent compensations, disability retirement and access to the TRICARE military health program.
Only 5 percent of the eligible population has applied, said LoGrande, during his two-day visit to Denver and Colorado Springs, where he met with local media. He plans to continue his travels to raise awareness of the PDBR this fall, with stops in California and Texas.
“Congress put this board in place so we can correct inaccurately rated disabilities — so we can afford (veterans) what they should have been afforded in the first place,” said LoGrande, while meeting with Edward Butler, an Army Wounded Warriors program advocate at Fort Carson.
“Congress put this board in place so we can correct inaccurately rated disabilities — so we can afford (veterans) what they should have been afforded in the first place.”
Butler has helped five veterans apply to PDBR in the past year; each received a higher rating.
“There are a number of people who don’t feel good about their rating,” said Butler. His cases mostly involve severely injured individuals who were discharged with a medical disability, such as a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, limb dysfunction or loss of vision or hearing.
“Sometimes they’re just worn out and frustrated and just want to get out — they’ll sign anything,” said Butler.
“If you apply to the PDBR, you don’t have to prove there was an error or injustice,” said LoGrande. “We look at everything available and see what can be rated.” Almost all of the PDBR findings have resulted in a correction of military records, he said.
Each board combines a medical officer alongside two senior line officers, who represent the veteran’s branch of service. They may endorse rating modifications, additions or recharacterizations to retirement. They are not authorized to recommend reductions, according to the bill passed in 2008.
The legislation also funded the creation of pilot programs for the Disability Evaluation System, which are projected to reduce processing times and standardize policies across the military departments.
Colorado contains the PDBR’s third largest eligible population, behind California and Texas, said LoGrande. Out of the estimated 1,500 disabled post-9/11 veterans residing in the state, 116 have applied. More than half of those applicants received retroactive benefits and a disability retirement.
“They can send us whatever documentation they have, or they can send us nothing,” said LoGrande, emphasizing that the paperwork requested by the PDBR is minimal. “They don’t have to send us anything other than the application and privacy act release.”
“(PDBR) is an opportunity to correct a soldier’s military record,” said Butler, “as it pertains to their medical board rating. It will assist not just the soldiers but also their families.”
Post-9/11 veterans with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less can apply to the PDBR at http://www.health.mil/pdbr.