Cancer, PDBR, and Things That Don't Make Sense

ET3_PDBR

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I joined to tell this story because you guys are members of the forums that top the search results for these things. So, here it goes...

In 2007, I was discharged, medically. 10%, unfit, with some severance pay the VA fought with the DoD to gobble up. I had re-enlisted, and would not be spending that time in the military. At least according to my credit report, they decided to leave that $9,000 that remained unpaid alone eventually. I suspect that should I be in a situation to file taxes in the future that I haven't heard the last of it.

I was aware of the PDBR back in '09 or so. I vaguely remember a letter about it right around the time I applied for Individual Unemployability. The VA rated the boarded condition at 70% one month after discharge. It surprised me at the time, and hit 80% total. They approved Unemployability in 2010. I've never quite understood the rating. "Permanent and Total" but I verify employment (or lack thereof) once a year? Sure.

I moved around a bit, and had been IU for a few years before somebody decided to send that "Employment Verification." I missed it (went to the wrong address), and it took around a year to fix. The young lady at the local clinic filed it as an "appeal" and not "notice of disagreement." If somebody hadn't shown up out of nowhere to fix it, I would have lost my home and family that year. Electricity was scheduled to be cut the same day backpay arrived.

I was diagnosed with Stage II bladder cancer (half the average age for it) last year, around this time. I went through a few hoops as I panicked with both a, "I'm mortal?!" and, "My family!" type of crisis. Social Security was especially amusing, and based on correspondence, actually denied me because they could not get my VA records "in the next four days." I told him I would be lucky to get an acknowledgement I had requested anything in a few months, and that I had given him copies of my VA records, but a week later, I got a denial. Bear in mind, there is a real mortality rate with cancer, and bladder cancer has a documented reoccurance of around 80%. I was reasonably expected at the time to die, or have a MAJOR surgery. Glad Social Security works as intended. Nevermind my VA ratings.

I considered the VA, but I didn't see how claiming my non-rated conditions would make any difference. They exist. They might even rate a "natural" jump from 80% to 100%, but it still was going to stop if I died. I'm not married into my current family. We were going to get around to it.

I remembered "that PDBR thing." Something about Tricare and VGLI. I filled it out. My case, after all, could have caused the creation of the board, at the end of the day.

Four days ago, eleven months after filing, I emailed the board to ask for a status. Three days ago, they responded, "We have everything besides your PEB. If you can provide that, we can proceed with your case." My PEB? The first eight pages of my medical records, followed by another ten later on? Okay, but it has a story. One that confused me as I reviewed the scanned documents. I spent the entire day writing and rewriting an explanation of why these documents that should make sense simply do not.

"Effect of disability on continued military service is expected to be severe" stood out. "Member is considered severely handicapped." I had forgotten that board. As a matter of fact, I had considered travel to the VA facility where that doctor works, some time in the "chemo fog" days, with bail money, so I could kick that doctor in a sensitive place. This was idle speculation and I have NO desire to harm him. It appears he wrote six pages describing a 70% VA rating, and the board decided 10% was entirely reasonable. Maybe he was informed by the civilian "second opinion" I received through some magic with the nurse case manager. That backed up my military medical records and made more sense (my military records diagnose both "chronic" and "acute"). My board actually uses the code for "acute," only to have the text of the board, over and over, refer to it as a "chronic" condition.

I "requested reconsideration." My records show that was denied twelve days before the paperwork for the request is dated. I don't remember noticing that at the time, but it sounds right. I suppose my PEBLO told somebody that told somebody and they went ahead and told me to "go away" BEFORE my submission of additional evidence and the letter where I apparently, adorably, asked some line officers to "act with integrity." This board wouldn't exist if that had been the case. I am not exaggerating in my descriptions. My board, written by a USNR Captain, and with him acting as a junior member, directly said "severe," described a higher rating in excruciating detail, and rated 10%.

I "demanded" a "Formal PEB," but when I got to DC, the nice young woman assigned as "my" JAG officer told me they would screw me over if I went in there... paraphrased. At least one place in my records is a suggestion that I had become paranoid that the military was trying to screw me over. My secondary boarded condition is left over from an attempt to do that. "Personality Disorder (NOS)," or, "Administrative, Other than Honorable discharge within a week." I believed her and eIected to waive my "Formal PEB" inches away from where I had initialled to have one. I flew home, and waited out the end of service.

A month later, VA rating at 70% for my boarded condition, and later, 100% for Unemployability.

So, I sit here, this weekend suddenly far longer than it would have been otherwise, wondering about the little things. I took copies of my records a few days before discharge. My PEB cover page is the front page of my service medical records, with only my "Non Medical Assessment" and "reconsideration nonsense" located a bit further back in the records. The board appears to have my service medical records. How are they missing my PEB? It reminds me of the "good old days," and that paranoia that I am getting screwed over. Are parts of my records missing? Are they deliberately missing?

I suppose I will be back in the near future to write a conclusion. As of last month, I do not have cancer. I could be run over by a car obsessively checking the mail for board results, but I suspect I will be alive to see something happen with the board in the near future. A reasonable expectation would be the board doing their debating thing between 50-70%, with the correct answer being 70%. I find concern in the absence of my original board, and it has thrown off my assumption that the board would act in a reasonable sense. I've read hundreds of these cases now, including a number with my boarded diagnosis (higher than average approval rates, but average seems to be cases that perhaps should never have been filed), and I expected redress. Now, I am not as certain.
 

chaplaincharlie

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VA normally recoups severance pay, nothing unusual about that part of your story. The fact that the VA rated your boardable conditon at 70% one month is substantial. What happened years afterward will have little impact on the outcome.

Best wishes
 

ericsvibe

PEB Forum Regular Member
Registered Member
It's not just you. In my case, my original PEB rated me at 40%. A year and a half later, it was reduced to 10%. At the time, I had so many problems that the PEB was very low on my list, so I didn't even challenge it. My friend went through the PDBR and got his rating increased to 80%, and thank God he encouraged me to apply. I started by getting a copy of the PEB from the Navy. I was shocked at what it said. The Dr. that completed the second review stated that my range of motion in my ankles had gotten WORSE, and that my condition was permanent, and likely to deteriorate as arthritis set in later in life. With that info, the board changed by code from "severe reduction in range of motion for foot and ankle" rated at 20% each foot, to "moderate arthritis" rated at 5% each foot. The board crossed out the former code, wrote in the new code above it, and called it a day. I didn't have any arthritis at that time. The VA rated me with the original condition, 20% for each foot. I have come to realize that the military was actively trying to reduce the number of veterans receiving disability retirement by lowballing their conditions, which is why Congress created the PDBR.
 

ET3_PDBR

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Registered Member
I think years afterward was just framing. I didn't have a reason to care about this board, and assumed, based on my service history with the board, that it would probably function as some half-baked appeasement of Congress. I seem to remember reading that Congress intervened a second time a few years into the board continuing to uphold the tradition of "screwing over" service members? Anyway, I filed under the assumption I would be dead or dying today.

I think the recoupment was curious because the DoD actually won there. They recouped, and then billed me $9,000. The VA eventually decided that I hadn't been paid a severance, because it was recouped.

My request for reconsideration actually wasn't part of my medical records, but it generated that denial, with a reference number and everything, from a DC-convened board. I located the jacketed copy of my records this morning. I made a page-for-page copy of that thing. It's a far cry from the computerized records that, printed out, are some inch and a half of treatment record entries. I managed access to EVERYTHING before I left. My lab results, even. They're fairly boring, but only ONE result led to any follow-up. During cancer I achieved a nexus for that one, as it can cause cancer, but again, I'm not too concerned with the VA. Perhaps I should have been. Other conditions the VA could rate are somewhat related to my board, but I didn't have the time to process it when I might have been dying.

I suppose somebody is going through my board, this morning. It's a weird feeling. All copies of my records have my something that would pass muster as my PEB. The jacketed copy from a few days before discharge had the PEB inside, front and center on the back side of that center flap. It is missing anything to do with reconsideration, but it is present. I am tempted to scan the inch and a half of papers, as I am concerned that they can't possibly have access to my full records if my PEB was somehow absent.

I think, unless they ask, I do not care to confuse them. That stupid computer system had codes for "acute, chronic, mild, moderate, severe" all at the same time, and my notes are confusing as a result. It's why the case manager at the local clinic somehow generated a request for a civilian opinion proximate to my discharge. His paperwork was somewhere between 50 and 70, but he was obviously a bit more concerned with civilian function. He did do three days of work for his report, and it was the only paperwork I saw at my VA examination. Board did the same for military function, but disregarded it, and the VA did their actual jobs.

My board is something. ICD code for "acute" and "severe" followed by "chronic" and "permanent" throughout the text of the board. I had, over the years, apparently decided that the board had to match the board's decision (not sure when I forgot), and harbored some anger towards my primary, who sat as a junior member of the board. Either he was "in on the game" or was a minority opinion with two people he outranked. Actually, as a Captain, he outranked everybody that touched my board. I suppose I could contact the somewhat local hospital he practices at for the VA and ask him (he's close enough the VA could assign him as a primary if I were willing to allow the VA to touch me). Maybe after I get a result I will ask him. I assume working for the VA has mellowed him out, but I don't want to chance him interfering either. He was ANGRY about that civilian opinion. Sent me out of an appointment and called me back a few hours later. Wrote in my records that I had told him I didn't request the second opinion. I told him some 20-30 times that I had. On second thought, no way he was a minority opinion.

So, anybody go through this and actually find out that your "service medical records" were missing things during the process? I don't see a situation where I will be given a copy of the full text of my board, including all considered enclosures, but I am able to say with absolute certainty, now, that papers entered into my medical records are missing from the board's copy.

It's not just you. In my case, my original PEB rated me at 40%. A year and a half later, it was reduced to 10%. At the time, I had so many problems that the PEB was very low on my list, so I didn't even challenge it. My friend went through the PDBR and got his rating increased to 80%, and thank God he encouraged me to apply. I started by getting a copy of the PEB from the Navy. I was shocked at what it said. The Dr. that completed the second review stated that my range of motion in my ankles had gotten WORSE, and that my condition was permanent, and likely to deteriorate as arthritis set in later in life. With that info, the board changed by code from "severe reduction in range of motion for foot and ankle" rated at 20% each foot, to "moderate arthritis" rated at 5% each foot. The board crossed out the former code, wrote in the new code above it, and called it a day. I didn't have any arthritis at that time. The VA rated me with the original condition, 20% for each foot. I have come to realize that the military was actively trying to reduce the number of veterans receiving disability retirement by lowballing their conditions, which is why Congress created the PDBR.
So I'm guessing the PDBR did fix it? I swear, a majority of cases I've read are similar to yours, because of the Army. You don't jump out of planes for a living without accumulating damage to your legs, hips, and back, but they appear to latch onto any reduction of symptoms, having a good day where your joints aren't a mess because you managed to get medication to give relief for a single exam, and call it gospel. If you did manage during PDBR, congratulations. Those diagnoses, they appear to process with overwhelmingly negative outcomes.
 

ericsvibe

PEB Forum Regular Member
Registered Member
No, I am still waiting on the PDBR. I am in the records collection phase, the same as you.
 

ET3_PDBR

New Member
Registered Member
No, I am still waiting on the PDBR. I am in the records collection phase, the same as you.
Good luck!!! I suppose I might be done with records collection now. I thought about asking them if the paperwork I sent was sufficient, but I can't decide if they would have written on their own to let me know in either case, and I got distracted by the text of my board and had more questions. The VA is messing with mediations right now, cancer anxiety and all of that, so I'm obsessing over this. Unhealthy, as the timeline to hear cases as the packets are sent up is still a decent wait. I suppose if it were finalized, it could be done already.

When I tried to write them to just ask, "Was what I sent you 'my PEB?'" I realized my board starts with my doctor writing about an NJP in the prior year, on my sea-going command, and he made me sound like the worst person possible when the words he used to describe "made a mistake on paperwork and entered an incorrect value" were written as "falsified documents." The latter sounds awful, and the prior was my actual charge, with a separate lie charge thrown in to round it out that wasn't related directly.

Again, I wonder if the board will consider based on partial information, and if any officer would read that and disregard the medical opinion that followed, writing me off as garbage. My doctor was woefully unqualified to comment on an NJP I was still appealing at the time of my board (generated almost 500 pages of paperwork). Considering it was paperwork to start up a nuclear reactor, he was entirely incapable of understanding the first thing about it. Not many people have a NAVSEA Admiral weigh in on their mast and watch a single mistake undo an entire career because it took a strategic asset off patrol. It was more political than we could deal with. If my board chose to mention and mischaracterize that event, does the review board end up looking up the actual charge? I don't see it in their procedure or mandates, to further investigate when a physician calls a member's character into question in the opening of the board. Good stuff.

It turned into something where I felt I needed to send them hundreds more pages. Ironically, as my chief wrote most of the paperwork (he suffered an NJP along-side me), he managed to document my medical progression during appeals (he took notes every time he saw me).

I won't. Again. If we end up in court, we end up in court. At least there, there probably is a platform to have a discussion about some good, old-fashioned character assassination right before we discuss the medical issues. I can not remember my experiences with line officers giving me the impression that if they were introduced to a person, "Here is a man of no honor." that they would engage in a discussion of "how to not screw that person over." I did, after all, have an NJP where a number of them actually wrote that I was garbage after that event. A highly promotable evaluation, three days later followed by an evaluation where I was the scum of the earth and always had been. We appealed the living daylights out of all of it, stopping short of SECNAV because of my board, and my chief's reassignment after they reversed his own 107 (False Official Statement) charge they tacked onto each of us (LPO went down too, but he's a Chaplain now).

One of these days, we should write a book. It writes itself. My 107 charge itself changed over time, but actually ended up being the functional equivalent, of when I told them about two different processes used to generate maintenance paperwork (I didn't photocopy startup paperwork (hundreds of pages), but it saved time to copy weekly maintenance from pre-prepared blanks), them deciding that they were the mutually exclusive. They had my "paperwork binder," and because it wasn't three feet deep (reactor plants have a LOT of maintenance), looking at it made it obvious I had to use another process as well. I explained both, and they decided they it needed to be one or the other. At one point the charge was that I "engaged in deception"" when I updated the paperwork to start up the reactor, before the critique, which they had ordered me to do. I wasn't going to do it with the wrong value again. I hadn't been relieved of my duties. The first is like being told you lied because you said you walked somewhere, AND admitted to driving somewhere else. Not the same process. The latter evolution makes even less sense.

Anyway, anybody have somebody open your board by calling you garbage, describe your condition accurately, and have a favorable outcome at this point? We're all here because they decided to "screw us over," but I am not too sure they can read, "this guy is awful" and remain objective. They don't have a mandate to investigate my doctor saying I'm a bad person right before he describes my condition.

I did find a bit of the rating procedure, showing weight given to exams closer to discharge and the "most qualified examiner," and obviously the VA thing. It boils down to something that remains pretty subjective. I'm entirely exhausted with the internal debates over completing their picture and sending some 2,000 pages of paperwork, or just assuming they can, and will, figure it out with what they have.
 
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