By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Apr 16, 2009 20:07:00 EDT
A new Government Accountability Office report takes the Defense Department to task for a temporary retirement system designed to allow service members to stabilize before they receive a final disability retirement rating.
Over a three-year period, 73 percent left the list — usually three years after they began the process — with a permanent disability rating that was exactly the same as their initial temporary disability rating. But while they’re on the list, service members have no idea if, in two years or five years, they will lose their benefits, get more benefits or even be returned to service. Critics say the service members feel like they are in limbo and can’t move forward in their lives.
“To go through the medical evaluation board process all over again and not be on active duty is stressful to say the least,” wrote Edward Reese, National Service Director for Disabled American Veterans, in an addendum to the report. “You never know what is going to happen. This process goes on for five years, if [military doctors] find it necessary.”
But Defense Department officials say part of the problem is legal. Air Force Maj. Gen. Keith Meurlin, acting director of the Transition Policy & Care Coordination Office, wrote in a response to the report that the department plans to pursue legislative changes to regulation that states a service member must be “permanent and stable” to be taken off the list. Meurlin would change it to instead say “maximum medical improvement.”