Physical Disability Board of Review to veterans: We want to help
Through the Department of Defense, the Physical Disability Board of Review serves as means for veterans to appeal their cases with the possibility of modifying their assigned rating or disability retirement status. In hopes of helping eligible at-risk and homeless veterans, PDBR continues to make significant efforts to find and assist those who are eligible. Modifications to assigned ratings can potentially allow veterans and their families to receive benefits that were previously unavailable to them. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communications Specialist Elisandro T. Diaz)
THe Military Health System is shedding light on an effort led by the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) with a mission to help as many eligible veterans as possible. The board was created to help veterans who separated from the Armed Forces to ensure accuracy and fairness in their disability ratings. To date, PDBR has reviewed more than 10,000 applications and hopes to receive many more as its success continues to grow.
Troy McIntosh, president and director of PDBR, said the review gives a veteran a second look at a disability process and corrects any errors that the service may have made, which may result in either a modification to their assigned rating or disability retirement.
“When you receive the full medical retirement, now you’re eligible for health care [and] a stipend for the rest of your life,” said McIntosh. Those who separated with disability severance pay from the military between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009, are eligible to apply.
Established as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act Wounded Warrior Legislation, PDBR reviews cases of veterans who have received less than 30 percent disability rating at no cost or risk to the individuals applying. Of the 15,000 applications already received, the board has recommended more than 2,000 retirements and 2,500 modifications.
PDBR has also made significant strides to reach homeless and at-risk veterans. When the Department of Defense identified 77,000 veterans who were eligible for review by the board, the Department of Veterans Affairs joined forces to contact most of those veterans by letter. However, 20,000 letters were returned and marked as undeliverable or with no forwarding address.
Gregory Johnson, director of operations for PDBR at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, said about 6,300 of the individuals whose letters were returned matched in the VA’s National Homeless Veteran Registry as either homeless or at-risk of being homeless. In 2014, PDBR partnered with the VA Homeless Veterans Taskforce to track down as many homeless or at-risk veterans as possible and help them submit an application to have their cases reviewed. More than 90 percent of those individuals were contacted and 2,000 elected to apply.
“We have reviewed the applications of 95 percent of those who applied,” said Johnson. So far, the board has recommended 19 percent of the applications to be changed to disability retired, which would allow those veterans to receive retroactive benefits. Veterans and family members who have been granted full medical retirement now receive TRICARE benefits, ID cards and any other benefits that are associated with retiring from the service.
A review by PDBR cannot hurt a veteran’s existing rating. Those who apply but are not granted a review or a change in status can still continue receiving services from the VA. In order to start the process, a completed DD Form 294 must be mailed to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. After reviewing all necessary information, PDBR then makes a recommendation to the applicant’s service secretary, who has the final say.
“We can either tell you ‘no change’ or we could make the change that could result in the retirement,” said Johnson, adding that the board is in the process of sending a second round of letters to 30,000 veterans.
Additional information is available at health.mil on the Physical Disability Board of Review, including requirements for eligibility and access to the application process.