The past two years have been the craziest times of my 40 years on this earth. I provided a detailed version of the happenings on a blog post from a few months ago. In synopsis, a had two significant medical procedures and a divorce. Either one of these three items would have been tough to deal with but all three pushed me to depths I have never experienced. I am still working through all of it as I am making the transition back to civilian life after nearly 21 years in the greatest Air Force in the world. The last few months of my career went by like a whirlwind so I thought it would be only right to detail my experience with the United States Air Force’s Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) and Veterans Administration (VA) Disability process.
Two things before I get started:
- The Dyess Air Force Base Case Manager, Mrs. Miller, was the biggest help during the entire process.
- The IDES and VA disability processes run concurrently.
I had a procedure on a hip/ITB to elevate pain going down the leg and some deterioration. The process had me out of work for six weeks.
The recovery was going according to schedule but was met with a major setback when I experienced a broken femur.
After a night filled with excruciating pain and in traction, a rod and other assorted hardware was inserted into femur. Physical therapy began the next day as I was directed by the team to begin moving or potentially experience a setback.
The physical therapy continued with inpatient therapy for two weeks. I was in a wheelchair most of the time and had little to none muscle control/function in the affected leg. I was then transitioned to home health for two weeks. This was something that was extremely difficult so I opted to start outpatient rehab at the same facility where I recently completed inpatient.
Mid-DecemberI began to notice significant back pain as my leg was improving. The physical therapy team suggested I get a referral to a “back” doctor. An X-Ray and MRI revealed a fracture of the L$/L% vertebrae.
Physical therapy was postponed as I awaited a date for surgery to repair my back.
I immediately called the Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO) to inquire about the first step of a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), an Informal Review in Lieu Of (IRILO). The PEBLO initially rebuffed the idea. A few days later, I received a call from my Primary Care Manager (PCM) to discuss my issues. The PCM followed up the next week to complete the Narrative Summary (NARSUM). A commander’s letter, stating if I was fit for duty, also needed be to submitted with the package. I had never been involved in one of these processes so I reached out to one of my best friends to inquire about it since he recently completed the same thing.
I had a successful surgery on my back. I had a fusion which included installing hardware to secure the vertebrae.
the IRILO was submitted two weeks after the surgery. It came back with a return to duty determination. The PCM was baffled about the prognosis. When reviewing the package, I found out it did not include any mental health notes.
I spoke with my PCM and he resubmitted the IRILO with the Mental Health diagnosis added. The IRILO came back a few days later with a “continue with con-care for three months” determination. The IRILO was due to be resubmitted by September 3.
I visited the civilian hospital and collected my medical records for the past year. This included nearly 300 pages of diagnosis, treatment, prescriptions, and physical therapy. As if any surprise, the off base clinics and Military Treatment Facility (MTF) were not communicating fully. I took the records to Outpatient Records in the MTF to be loaded into my permanent records.
The PCM, Mental Health, and the PEBLO followed up the first week of the month and the IRILO was submitted on the first Wednesday. The IRILO/MEB was approved the following Tuesday. I met with the PEBLO the next day where I given an overview of the process and told what to expect in the coming days. The first of those was a phone call from a VA representative to complete my intake. The intake was to be done in three calendars days so we had to get it all done on Friday. The entire VA process had to be completed within 120 calendar days since I was active duty.
The information provide to the representative included a list of all conditions experienced during service (which numbered 47) and dependent information. I was scheduled for C&P exams (VA-contracted exams to verify my conditions).
The exams were spread out over the entire more. I ended up seeing 8 doctors for the 47 conditions. This included a lot of coordination, traveling, and communicating. I was able to claim mileage through my local MTF at Dyess for appointments that took me to Wichita Falls and San Angelo.
I had my final appointment on October 26, 2021. There was an issue with the time of the appointment which resulted in being designated as a “No-Show”. I was able to call QTC for permission to proceed with the appointment. The appointment was completed without issue. It took the doctor nearly three weeks to submit the exam to QTC.
The QTC show “completed” for all VA appointments. The same day I signed 1168 to begin IPEB at the local Military Treatment Facility. This processed is completed by three doctors in the local MTF to determine the Air Force disability percentage.
The VA review was completed and my case moved to the decision step.
I logged into E-benefits to request my claim be expedited. On the same day, Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) received the claim IPEB documents through MyPERS from the PEBLO.
The VA claim was moved to Pending Decision Approval with the projected benefit letter uploaded on the VA website.
I called the PEBLO, who checked VA and gave me the rating. I could not sign for the VA rating because we did not have the Air Force’s rating.
I created a MyPERS incident/sent a message for an IPEB status update.
Received a message from AFPC that the 356 and 1180 were returned to my PEBLO. The PEBLO contacted me and told me I should receive the retirement order NLT January 3, 2022. I was also informed of the Air Force disability rating and my placement on the Temporary Disability Retired List (TDRL). This meant that I had an unstable condition so I would remain on the list until it was determined to be stable. After it stabilizes, I will move the Permanent Disability Retired List (PDRL).
Although I had been outprocessing for the pending retirement, I received a call from my Commander’s Support Staff informing me that Monday (January 3) would be a down day so I could not final out. I emailed the PEBLO and created a MyPERS incident asking for a new final out date for the end of January. MyPERS told me contact the PEBLO for such requests as it was not the proper way to handle the issue. I emailed the PEBLO Immediately.
Did not receive orders could not final out.
I contacted PEBLO for a status on retirement orders and new retirement date. She forwarded the emailed request from the previous week request to AFPC.
I finally received my retirement orders. Later in the day, the Air Force Wounded Warrior Liasion contacted me to introduce herself and provide a ton of information.
I did my final out appointment for the Air Force!
I received the DD Form 214 and immediately submitted it to the VA to finalize my claim.
VA Closed my claim with my first check scheduled to drop on March 1. I contacted the base’s finance department to see how long it would be to process my final pay/leave sell back and was told about 10 days. Mind you, I submitted my finance documents two weeks prior.
Throughout the month, I contacted finance on a weekly basis for the status of my final pay. No luck.
I received my first VA check but did not receive my military retirement. I contacted my Air Force Wounded Warrior Liaison and she was able to determine that I was not outprocessed properly by the Military Personnel Flight/Finance.
The liaison was able to run it to ground and get my status updated. I received the final pay and first retirement check the next week. One thing that stood out on the retirement check was the “VA Waiver Fee”. The VA Waiver fee was half of VA benefits, deducted from my active duty retirement pay. I called numerous people because I thought this was bogus, it was not. All retirees receiving VA benefits and an active duty retirement check will have the fee attached to their retirement check. Le Sigh.
The past two years have been nothing short of remarkable. I do not know how I made it through the entire process. I will tell you that the while the surgeries and cloudy future were hard, they do not compare to the transition from being an airman to a civilian. I am currently in the hardest season of my life.