By: Kevin Barrett

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and their specific branch of Veterans Benefits play a very important role in today’s American society. The Veteran Benefits branch of the VA is responsible for screening and evaluating applications from United States Veterans for disability compensation and pension. Veterans typically apply to the VA for disability benefits if they are injured upon leaving the armed services and have not been retired on a medical status. The VA has provided this opportunity for those well deserving men and women to receive the benefits they need after serving their country for a period of time. However, there is another option for a group of Veterans who believe that they should have been medically retired from the armed services but were improperly evaluated during their Physical Evaluation Board or Medical Evaluation Board process.

The Physical Disabilities Board of Review (PDBR) was created by Congress as part of the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act of 2008. President Bush signed this Act into law on January 28, 2008. The Act was geared towards Veterans who have been medically separated from the U.S. Military between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009. This legislation gives these Veterans the opportunity to have their disability ratings reviewed by a specially created Board to ensure fairness and accuracy. Congress feared that during this particular time period, Veterans were receiving inaccurate evaluations of their medical status and this Board, along with this process, is their way of attempting to correct any injustice. Combined disability ratings of 20% or less are eligible to be reviewed by the PDBR. This is because, to be eligible for medical retirement from the armed forces, a rating of 30% or higher is needed. Any improper evaluations during that time period could very well have resulted in a rating of 20% or less; therefore, those are the eligible Veterans for re-evaluation through this process.

The Department of Defense designated the Air Force as the lead component to establish and operate the PDBR and they are responsible for reviewing cases from all of the services. Representatives from three separate services, including the service of the applicant, jointly review each case. The process for the PDBR begins with a veteran separated between 9/11/01 and 12/31/09 with 0%, 10%, or 20% combined disability. These eligible Veterans submit a signed DD-294 to PDBR Central Intake Unit (CITU) to begin application process. CITU then requests medical and disability evaluation documentation from the VA and the Veteran’s Military Department. Once these documents are received, they are uploaded into the PDBR central database where the PDBR downloads the case documentation at Joint Central Adjudication Unit (JCAU). The PDBR will then review the case, adjudicate any issues within the case & recommend action to the Designated Decision Authority (DDA). The DDA of Veteran’s Military Department will ultimately make the final decision on each case and inform the Veteran. If the veteran’s prior disability separation is re-characterized as a disability retirement, the DDA coordinates correction of the veteran’s military record as well as pay with DFAS and the VA. However, if the veteran’s disability is not re-characterized, there will be no change in status (with the VA or the individual’s Military Department). By law, the PDBR may not recommend a lower disability rating for any rating reviewed.  In accordance with Title 10 United States Code, Section 1554a, Veterans who sign their application to the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) acknowledge their understanding that they can no longer appeal to their Service Board for Correction of Military Records for the same conditions that the Physical Disability Board of Review adjudicated. Therefore, their PDBR determination is not appealable. However, the Veteran retains the right to file a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals. Additionally, Veterans have the right to appeal the medical conditions not adjudicated by the PDBR to the Board of Correction of Military or Naval Records.

For some Veterans this is the second chance they prayed for; a chance to have a wrong corrected and to be properly evaluated for their medical disability. Thus far, the PDBR has been very beneficial to Veterans since they started reviewing cases back in 2009. Presently, more than 50% of cases reviewed by the PDBR have been upgraded; resulting in disability retirement for well deserving Veterans.

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