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Witness Testimony of Mr. John Campbell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Wounded Warrior Care & Transition Policy U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss the use of the Department of Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) by the Department of Defense (DoD) in the Disability Evaluation System (DES). Codified in Title 38, the VASRD governs how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensates Veterans for injuries and diseases acquired or aggravated during military service.

As you know, the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) integrates the DoD and VA DES processes in which Service members receive a single set of physical disability examinations conducted according to VA examination protocols, disability ratings prepared by VA, and simultaneous processing by both Departments to ensure the timely and quality delivery of disability benefits. Both Departments use the VA protocols for disability examination and the VA disability rating to make their respective determinations. DoD determines fitness for duty and compensates for unfitting conditions incurred in the line of duty (Title 10), while VA compensates for all disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service for which a disability rating is awarded and thus establishes eligibility for other VA benefits and services (Title 38).

To ensure more consistent disability ratings, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (P.L. 110-181) mandated the DoD to use the VASRD for disability ratings by the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), including any applicable interpretation by the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, without exception. As a result, decisions on Service member’s medical retirement and disability compensation are tied to the VASRD. After a Service member is declared unfit, VA uses the VASRD to determine the degree of disability resulting from the unfitting condition(s) and DoD then applies the VA rating to ascertain whether retirement or separation applies. A DoD disability rating of 30% or above qualifies for military retirement, while a disability rating below 30% qualifies for separation and severance pay.

The VASRD compensates for the average impairment in earning capacity resulting from such diseases and injuries and their residual conditions in civil occupations, and VA compensation ratings are based on the degree of impairment. As a result, there are some instances where VASRD ratings are not always relevant to DoD’s requirements. Sleep apnea is an example of how VASRD ratings may not accurately reflect the degree of disability or even unfitting conditions. Under the VASRD, sleep apnea requiring continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment, would receive a rating of 50%. Although this condition might be unfitting for some military occupational specialties, many other military personnel would be able to continue on active duty and function very well with CPAP treatment.

VA is in the midst of a total rewrite of the VASRD and has solicited DoD expert participation in upcoming public workshops. We appreciate VA’s outreach to include DoD in the body system rating update review, and DoD plans to continue to participate in VA’s public meetings. DoD and VA leadership are discussing how to strengthen DoD’s role in the VASRD rewrite process. DoD very much looks forward to having an active voice in future development and modernization of the VASRD.

Mr. Chairman, the Department looks forward to continued collaboration with the VA in achieving the goal of ensuring both Service members and Veterans are evaluated using the latest medical evaluation and diagnostic criteria. Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss DoD’s views on the modernization of the VASRD, and this concludes my statement.