By Tom Philpott
Times of Trenton
About 70,000 disabled veterans who served on active duty after 9/11, and were medically discharged with disability ratings of 20 percent or less, still have a shot to gain “retiree” status, with base shopping privileges and lifetime eligibility to TRICARE for them and families. The catch is they have to know about this opportunity and to apply. Applying is a breeze. Notifying eligible veterans they can apply is the greater challenge. Efforts to reach many of them by mail have been delayed.
To win an upgrade in disability rating, qualified vets don’t have to appear before one more medical or physical disability evaluation board. They only have to fill out a short application form, send it to a panel called the Physical Disability Board of Review, and wait until the PDBR reviews all relevant health records and decides whether the veteran’s parent service did indeed low-ball their original disability rating.
For many years, the Army led the services in tweaking policy and using the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities in ways that kept ill and injured soldiers from a combined rating of 30 percent or higher to quality for disability retirement. It was less costly to rate a single unfitting condition, ignore others and separate rather than retire soldiers, by awarding ratings of 0, 10 or 20 percent.