What is the Medical Evaluation Board Process?
Formerly, the Services and the VA Considered Disability Separately
If you are confused with the acronyms IDES, MEB, PEB, DBQs, C&P Exams, VASRD, PEBLOs, MSCs NARSUMs, SMEBCs, and VARRs, you are not alone. So what is an MEB anyway? Colloquially, servicemembers refer to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) as an MEB. That common name comes from the fact that the IDES system was formerly two different systems. The Army/Navy/Air Force used one disability evaluation system and the Veterans Administration used a different system. The Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) served, and continues to serve, as the military services’ evaluation system . But now, the services and the VA work together; though sometimes they work together with the type of inter-service rivalries we know and love as servicemembers.
The medical evaluation system, as it previously existed, often did not benefit servicemembers. On the military service side (MEB/PEB), each service conducted their medical review and provided the member with their disability rating. After discharge, the VA would examine the same conditions and provide a rating based on the same medical information – and often, the ratings would vary widely. At times, this difference would cost servicemembers retirement from the military. To remedy this problem, Congress created the IDES process.
The Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) Combines the MEB and VA Systems
Now the medical evaluation process is, as the name suggests, integrated. Now once a MEB is initiated, the service and VA work together under the IDES system. The goal is to have the servicemember evaluated by the VA while still on active duty. In doing so, the service and the VA share medical records and other medical-related information. The VA uses forms that can be viewed online called Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) during this evaluation. Afterwards, the VA uses the evaluation, called a Compensation and Pension Examination (C&P Exam), together with the servicemember’s full medical records from the military service, and provides a proposed rating for the condition, using the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).
Once a MEB begins, the service assigns a Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO) to the servicemember. The job of the PEBLO is to assist the servicemember through the evaluation process to ensure it runs smoothly. PEBLOs desire to help the servicemember, but as non-attorneys there’s a limit to how much the PEBLO can do in the process. PEBLO’s act as stewards of the process and a resource for the servicemembers. After the PEBLO, the servicemember will be assigned a Military Service Coordinator (MSC). MSCs are individuals accredited by the VA that work with the servicemember to help file their claim. They can also assist with other information regarding the VA and additional benefits available including vocational rehabilitation during the MEB process.
Simultaneous Medical Evaluation Processing by the Services and VA
While the VA is determining its disability rating, the service conducts the MEB phase of their IDES process. During that process, the service has physicians not involved in treating the servicemember examine the medical records. This examination includes the C&P exam. The services’ doctors determine whether the medical conditions listed meet their service’s retention standards. Each service has a regulation or instruction that articulates the retention standards.
It is reported that many people say that specific conditions always fail retention standards – which is one of the many myths about the medical evaluation process that will be addressed in subsequent blog post. The symptoms of the service member, not the diagnosed condition, serves as the retention determination. The physicians will complete the Narrative Summary (NARSUM) regarding the servicemember’s conditions, as well as the MEB forms listing what conditions fail retention standards. The command serves those documents on the servicemember. After receipt of the documents, the servicemember meets with the PEBLO and reviews the file. Afterwards, the servicemember then meets with a lawyer, in the Army called the Soldier’s MEB Counsel (SMEBC). This lawyer will advise the servicemember of their rights and elections regarding the MEB.
Upon completion, the MEB forwards cases involving servicemembers with conditions that do not meet retention standards to the PEB. The PEB is a board of three individuals. One member must be a doctor. The PEB will consider the case and make a determination as to whether the conditions render the servicemember unfit for further duty. The board then adopts the VA proposed ratings for the conditions that render the servicemember unfit. The PEB then combines those ratings to determine the servicemember’s overall rating for the unfit conditions.
Right to Hearing if Servicemember Disagrees with PEB or VA Rating
The individual has the right to request a formal hearing at the PEB if they disagree with their findings regarding fitness for duty. Additionally, the servicemember can submit a VA Rating Reconsideration (VARR) regarding their unfit conditions if they believe that the VA’s proposed rating is incorrect.
This is part 1 of a 4-part series on the IDES/MEB process. If you have questions or concerns about this process, or have a topic you’d like to see covered in the rest of this series, please contact Jessica Linney at firstname.lastname@example.org or Will M. Helixon at email@example.com.
Written by Jessica Linney
Law Office of Will M. Helixon