New Disability Review Board Raises Concerns


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By Kelly Kennedy

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When retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rindorf heard about the new Physical Disability Board of Review, he thought his problems were over.

Diagnosed by the Veterans Affairs Department with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and given a disability rating of 30 per¬cent, he figured the Pentagon’s new board, which began its work in January 2009, would look at his separate military medical retirement rating of 10 percent and realize it had been a mistake.

“The intent of the new board met exactly what I was going through,” Rindorf said.

The PDBR was created by Congress in the wake of criticism that the services were applying signifi¬cantly different standards to med¬ical retirement ratings.

A Military Times analysis of Pentagon data showed, for example, that Air Force officers consistently got the highest disability ratings, while enlisted Marines and soldiers tended to get much lower ratings. VA also gave higher ratings than the Defense Department for the same injuries, even though they used the same ratings schedule.

Later reports showed that even though the military is required by law to grant people discharged for PTSD a disability rating of at least 50 percent, as well as time on the temporary disability retirement list to try to recover, most troops were not given that option.

Rindorf had been in the Army since 1991, but while in Iraq in 2004, he had identified and recovered the remains of a close friend killed in a rocket attack. He also held responsibility for 48 military police officers in his platoon who were under constant mortar attack. Almost immediately, he began having problems sleeping. Soon after, memory issues and angry behavior surfaced.

In 2006, his heart stopped beating because of a sinus condition, and Army doctors fitted him with a pacemaker. As he went through a medical evaluation board, the Army found that he was unfit for service not only because of his heart condition, but also because of PTSD and a depressive disorder.

But his separate Army physical evaluation board ruled that only the heart condition was reason for separation — and rated him at 10 percent and booted him out with only separation pay.

VA initially rated him at 10 percent for his PTSD, but then changed the rating to 30 percent, retroactive to his disability retirement date. Later, VA increased his rating to 70 percent, saying that his condition had not stabilized.

Rindorf figured the new PDRB also would boost his rating to at least 30 percent, the threshold for permanent disability retirement benefits.

Instead, a letter signed by board president Air Force Col. Michael LoGrande informed him that the board had retroactively placed him on the temporary disability retirement list and given him a rating of 60 percent based on his most recent VA examination.

That is not normally cause for alarm; usually, placement on the temporary list means six months of care with full examination at the end of that period, the possibility of returning to service if the member has recovered, the beginning of a new medical board process and the ability to appeal the findings board if the member disagrees with the rating.

Rindorf ’s retroactive temporary retirement placement, however, was entirely administrative. In the same letter, he learned that the board had in fact raised his per-manent rating — to only 20 percent, still not enough to qualify for lifetime disability retirement and medical care for him and his family — and had determined he was now “stable” even though VA said he was not.

The new board does not allow veterans any option for further appeal, so Rindorf will not be able to go through the review process again. “I don’t have the right to it,” he said.

“To me, that’s extremely rogue,” said retired Army Col. Mike Parker, who spends much of his time advocating for disability rights. “They should kick him back to the [temporary disability retirement list] system. The [new board] takes that all away — you can see how this train just went off the track.” Retired Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America, agreed.

“I would say he wasn’t provided due process,” Hayden said.

Board officials did not respond to a request for an interview by press time.

Bart Stichman, co-executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said Rinsdorf’s case is troubling.

But he also said he has reviewed 15 cases as part of a lawsuit against the Defense Department for service members who were diagnosed with PTSD but did not get the automatic 50 percent rating due them by law, and all received at least a 30 percent rating, qualifying them for disability retirement benefits.

Parker and Hayden raised other concerns about the board. For example, of the 282 cases that have gone through the review process, 61 percent have had their ratings increased, according to an Air Force press release — but it took an average of eight months to process those cases.

“It is taking a long time to adjudicate a case,” Hayden said. “I think it’s the amount of resources DoD is putting toward it.” Moreover, more than 70,000 vet¬erans are eligible to have their ratings reviewed, but only 804 people have applied so far. Hayden said he is working on a letter to be signed by 34 advocacy groups urg¬ing the Pentagon to do more to locate those 70,000 people to inform them about the new board.

“There was really no effort that we saw from DoD to get the word out,” Hayden said. “That 60 percent overturn rate shows that, yes, there’s a problem, and here is an avenue to get it fixed.”


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What a travesty. Did they get him over the VA screw up of granting him the 10% initially? I hope Congress will somehow amend this board through some kind of legislation in the future. This is an outrage.


PEB Forum Veteran

Well make it 805 because I applied to the PDBR for an expedited review of my case as a result of being a party to the PTSD Lawsuit. I hope and pray that they do the right thing. The VA has rated me 70% for PTSD as of the date of discharge...the Army rated me 10%.....something's wrong there and needs to be corrected. Anyway, I applied a few weeks ago so I will keep you updated on what happens. Hopefully my case will help some other vets out there in the same boat.



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I want to send a special thanks to LTC Parker (ret) on his push to bring my story to the front, and most of all to those who replied to this issue. I felt all along I was on the short end of the stick throughout my issues. Since my “Medical Discharge” without retirement in 2006, the military has made huge changes to the process in regards to PTSD and how they are discharged. There is always room for improvement but that will take time and I applaud the changes. Most of all, individuals like LTC Parker and those who make it a point to correct the wrong, have led these changes. When we unite, change will happen since we are no longer in service. I don’t support that approach while in service, but us on the outside can effect change to better the outcome of our buddies standing guard.
I just want to point out that I have lost my basic rights in this whole process, had I been in service and put on TDRL I would have rights. Now, I have to seek a lawyer on my own cost and hope for a good outcome. And we know how that works; I’ll owe them money for years. I will do that to insure no others are screwed like I was. Just want say thanks to all of you for your service and your acknowledgement to my case.


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PTSD Vets Win Retirement Deal: Tom Philpott/ Military Times - Veteran Veritas

PTSD Vets Win Retirement Deal
Tom Philpott | January 28, 2010PTSD Vets Discharged Since 2002 Win Retirement Deal
More than 4300 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who were diagnosed in service as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but got low military disability ratings, have won an agreement with the Department of Defense to upgrade those ratings retroactively to 50 percent.
The higher rating will represent an important win for this group of veterans mentally scarred by war. It will mean, from date of discharge, eligibility for disability retirement and access to TRICARE, the military’s triple health insurance option, for the veterans, spouses and dependent children.
Any out-of-pocket medical costs since discharge also could be paid retroactively, and these soon-to-be-designated disabled “retirees” will gain access to discounted shopping and recreational services on base.
Sparking the agreement is a class action lawsuit brought by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) which contends that the services illegally denied retiree status and medical benefits for years to these veterans who were diagnosed with PTSD then separated as unfit for service.
Service Physical Evaluation Boards (PEBs) would ignore the disability rating schedule used by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which requires a minimum 50-percent rating for PTSD victims, and routinely separate their members with ratings as low as 10 percent.
A board decision that keeps ratings below 30 percent lowers personnel costs. Instead of immediate annuity and lifetime TRICARE coverage, veterans rated below 30 percent get only a lump sum severance pay.
Judge George W. Miller of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims agreed to stay a final ruling in the case of Sabo, et al v. United States after DoD agreed to cut a deal. Seven veterans were named as original plaintiffs in Sabo but the claims court expanded the scope of the lawsuit to a class action. Defense officials gave NVLSP the names of 4300 veterans who should be invited to apply to have their ratings reviewed and upgraded, but there could be more.
Misty Sabo, wife of former Army Sgt. Michael Sabo, an original plaintiffs, said she was “totally excited” to learn of the agreement this week. Five of their six children are disabled with bilateral cleft lip and palate, which creates hearing, dental and speech problems and requires multiple surgeries. Family medical bills, said Misty, are enormous.
Michael Sabo, 31, had served in the Army more than a decade when he was diagnosed with PTSD after two tours in Iraq where he routinely went on patrols that exposed him to multiple explosions and live enemy fire.
After Sabo’s first 13-month tour in 2003-2004 he suffered recurring nightmares, severe headaches and mood swings. In the middle of his second tour, which again exposed him to explosions, mortar attacks and small arms fire, he returned home on emergency leave to care for his children while Misty underwent surgery. While home, in Fountain, Colo., near Fort Carson, Sabo nightmares, severe headaches and violent mood swings intensified and, the lawsuit contends, “severely impacted him and his family.”
He sought medical help and was diagnosed with PTSD and Post-Concussive Syndrome. In February 2008, the Army separated him as unfit with a 10-percent disability rating and a modest lump-sum severance.
Misty said she was stunned that the Army rating was only 10 percent for a condition that ended his career and changed his life so dramatically.
“He was just thrown to the wind,” she said.
“I didn’t care at the time,” said Michael, in a brief phone interview.
“I kept telling him, ‘This doesn’t sound right that somebody would get hurt like you and not get a retirement,’ ” Misty said. “He said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do, fight against the Army?’ And I said, ‘Yep.’ ”
At the urging of a local advocate for veterans in Fort Carson area, Sabo agreed to have his name added to the NVLSP lawsuit being prepared.
By October 2008, under pressure from Congress, DoD did revise its guidance to the services on rating PTSD to adhere to the VA rating schedule. Meanwhile, Congress ordered DoD to create a special board to review any service-generated disability ratings of 20 percent or less brought forth by veterans who were separated as medically unfit since Sept. 11, 2001.
Thousands have applied to this panel, called the Physical Disability Board of Review. So why bring a class action lawsuit specifically on behalf service members separated for PTSD?
Bart Stichman, co-executive director of NVLSP, said the deal with DoD forced by the court will expedite the rating review process for these PTSD cases upon application, and will guarantee those 4300-plus veterans a rating upgrade to 50-percent for at least six months. After that, the case will be reviewed again and the disability rating confirmed, increased or reduced.
A Class Action Opt-In Notice Form is being mailed to these veterans and must be returned either by fax or postmarked before July 24, 2010. Veterans who don’t get a notice by mail but believe they might be eligible can get more information online at: Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder .
The deal will not benefit tens of thousands of veterans diagnosed with PTSD over the last 30 years, only those discharged with a rating for PTSD of less than 50 percent after Dec. 17, 2002, and before Oct. 14, 2008.
As the dates indicate, the deal doesn’t include even all PTSD veterans discharged since Sept. 11, 2001. That’s because the lawsuit was brought under the Tucker Act, which has a six-year statute of limitation from the date a complaint is filed against the government, which was in December 2008.
Misty said a doctor at Fort Carson finally prescribed proper medication for Michael after some terrible times. Though he is able to work, every day remains a struggle due to memory loss, headaches and nightmares.
“It’s very hard for him, and us, because he has no memory,” said Misty. “Yesterday was our daughter’s birthday. He totally forgot. He doesn’t like to be around people, which makes it really hard with a big family…And he does not sleep because of the nightmares.”
“I have heart disease,” she said, “and just before he was discharged I found out I have MS [multiple sclerosis]. So I’ve been without my thyroid pills or any medical care.” When the family qualifies again for TRICARE, she said, “I can start taking better care of myself to take care of my children.”
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I'm sorry to hear that happened to him. I am considering filing to be reevaluated under the new PBDR but want some recommendation. I was boarded out in 2005. I went before the MEB with 8 medical conditions. The board agreed that all were service connected. I was found unfit , given 0% and kicked out. The first time the VA rated me they started me at 90%. I have the conditions I was MEB'd for, plus many others not included. Is my chance of getting retirement better from the review by PBDR or BCMR ( Board of Corrections of Military Records. All I ask for is to get my military retirement. I had almost 12 yrs active duty at time of discharge. Is the PBDR doing a realistically honest and just reevaluation and rating?

Jason Perry

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My opinion is that given how close you are to the 6 year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit, you should strongly consider suing in Federal Court rather than going to PDBR. If you lose at PDBR, and you have passed 6 years, you will have no further way to challenge the decision.

The question I would ask is what condition(s) did the MEB find unfitting and what did the VA rate those same conditions (not combined, but separately).


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How do you file in Federal Court and how long do one have after getting their letter from PDBR (the DDA returned it to PDBR without action even though the PDBR sent recommendations to DDA). What decision did they give? No documents come with this letter, just a copy of it. I am so thoroughly pissed that all it takes is one person or two giving "a no communication" that can destroy a veteran's medical life. I have the PDBR rating of 20% even though the VA rates me at 90%. How can they sleep at night?.
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