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Review board’s role: Help with disability ratings

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By Tom Philpott
In 2006, the Army gave Iraq war veteran Sgt. Luis Jardon a 10-percent disability rating for chronic left wrist pain and cubital tunnel syndrome of his left elbow. He was found physically unfit and separated with disability severance pay of $25,495.
Before his discharge, Jardon had presented other complaints to his Medical Evaluation Board, including a hearing loss, difficulty sleeping and diagnoses of anxiety and adjustment disorders. Some were not forwarded to his Physical Evaluation Board and some were dismissed by the board as irrelevant to a decision regarding fitness to remain in service.
Since his discharge, Jardon has been rated 20 percent, 40 percent and most recently 60 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA found not only carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndrome in both lower arms but hearing loss, tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder.
An Army rating of 30 percent or more would have qualified Jardon for disability retirement. He would have received a lifetime military annuity, rather than severance pay, and Tricare benefits for himself and his family as well as other retiree perks such as discounted shopping on base.
So was the 10 percent Army rating appropriate or was it unfair?
Answering that question for Jardon, and for up to 77,000 other veterans given disability ratings of 0 to 20 percent by their service since Sept. 11, 2001, is the job of the Physical Disability Board of Review.
Congress in January 2008 directed that the Department of Defense establish the special board to ensure that members separated as medically unfit since 9/11 got the ratings they deserved. For those who did not, the physical disability board can recommend that their ratings be raised and that retirement be awarded.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Parker, an advocate for disabled veterans, sees weaknesses in how that group is carrying out its responsibilities. Defense officials, including retired Col. Michael F. LoGrande, the disability board’s president, believe the criticism is unfounded, that Parker is assuming the board has responsibilities not intended by Congress.
Parker gained credibility as an advocate in February when he warned congressional staff and the press that the board intended to review service-awarded disability ratings using the same service-altered versions of the Veterans Administration Schedule for Ratings Disabilities that had been used to set the original ratings since 9/11.
By late April, under pressure from Congress, the Department of Defense announced “significant changes” to disability board policy, saying it would re-evaluate ratings using only the VA schedule, ignoring whatever modifications that service evaluation boards had used to hold down some types of ratings.
Parker’s more recent criticism involves what medical conditions the disability board will review. He contends the board is too restrictive. He said the policy is written generally enough that the board could consider any medical complaint raised by a service member, not just those listed in the medical evaluation summary. Parker contends the summarieis too often ignored medical complaints. In Jardon’s case, that included records showing hearing loss and anxiety and adjustment disorders.
Parker called it a “trash in/trash out” problem that has resulted in low-ball ratings for too many service members over the years. In Jardon’s case, he said, the Army had diagnosed anxiety and adjustment disorder but the medical board didn’t list it among conditions referred to the disability board, which sets ratings.
Is Jardon’s situation a clear case of the medical board failing to focus properly on all medical conditions? It might be. But VA, too, failed to diagnose stress when it awarded him an initial disability rating of 20 percent, suggesting his condition might have become more apparent only with the passage of time.
To comment, e-mail, write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111 or go to



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