Post 9/11, Many Veterans with Disabilities Still Have Chance at "Retiree" Status


veteran newsNote:  Military and federal civilian retirees, survivor benefit annuitants, disabled veterans and Social Security recipients will get a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in January.


More on the PDBR and how to apply is online at:


By Tom Philpott

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 abo ut 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.
In 2008, Congress ordered the services to clean up their disability evaluation systems and end such practices. It also directed the Department of Defense to establish the PDBR with authority to re-examine medical files and, if appropriate, recommend that ratings of vets medically separated from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2009, be raised to 30 percent or higher.
PDBR applicants don’t need to worry about a ratings downgrade. That’s prohibited. Yet more than three years after the PDBR began operating, only 6,800 veterans have applied for review. Of those, the PDBR has decided 3,800, recommending disability upgrade and retiree status for 27 percent. That’s down from a rate of 45 percent through 2011.
The services decide whether to accept PDBR recommendations to upgrade a rating to at least 30 percent and allow “retiree” status. Such a re-characterization triggers eligibility for retroactive retired pay back to date of discharge (minus separation pay previously awarded) and full military retiree benefits. TRICARE eligibility also is retroactive so a newly minted retiree able to document out-of-pocket medical costs since time of discharge can files a claim with TRICARE.
Most of 1,033 veterans who have won “retiree” status through PDBR review are Army veterans. The top three medical conditions given revised ratings were post-traumatic stress, back ailments and arthritis.
To date, Air Force and Coast Guard authorities have approved every PDBR recommendation. Army has accepted 98 percent of them. The Navy Department, for sailors and Marine applicants, has approved 94 percent.
More on the PDBR and how to apply is online at:
• Military and federal civilian retirees, survivor benefit annuitants, disabled veterans and Social Security recipients will get a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in January.
Annual COLAs for federal benefits are based on inflation, as tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.
Changes in prices across a market basket of goods and services from the third quarter of last year to t he third quarter this year determine the January COLA.
BLS senior economist Ken Stewart said declines in gas prices from last year led to the modest inflation rate reported. The COLA in 2013 was 1.7 percent.
If you have further questions about the PDBR, contact: [email protected]

Mailing address:
PDBR intake unit
500 C Street West, Suite 41
Randolph AFB, Texas 78150-4743

Please keep in mind that this office cannot discuss the merits of your application. You may wish to contact your local veterans’ service organization for advice or guidance.



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