Weeks ago I was chosen to speak on a panel in front of the Recovering Warrior Task Force. Of course I said yes. I couldn't resist the chance to throw my two cents into their pot. Yesterday was the big day. It was myself, another caregiver and two wounded warriors on the panel.
Yesterday we were mostly asked about the IDES (Integrated Disability Evaluation System) process. So what is that?! Well a few years ago someone realized that rather than having you transition out of the Army and then enter the VA system you should do it together. I completely agree. The process is a great idea, but the problem is the system is supposed to be (check the first word) integrated. So the military is supposed to be communicating with the VA and VA to the military. This is not really happening. The whole reason the system was created was to help our military get on with their lives a little faster, instead IDES is future proof of the one way communication system the military has in place.
It was interesting seeing the faces of the crowd as we spoke. Some were thrilled and a few mouths dropped open as we spoke, but
the nice thing was the four of us had their complete attention and they
listened. Yes you read that correctly, they listened. Being listened to was a very nice change for us.
Our statements were the pretty much same. You enter the IDES process. You are sent to your VA appointments and are threatened to not miss them or you will start all over. Then you wait. Then your narrative summary comes in. You are told you have 7 days to go over the 30-something pages and turn them back in. (Heaven forbid, if you find errors). You turn that back in and wait for your findings. Then those magically come in and you are called and told to come in and sign those (once again within a few days or you are told you will have to start the process all over again). Then you wait for all of this to go back to the Army and wait for more magic phone calls. Then all of the sudden someone gives you a list of everything you only have weeks to do. They tell you to get on it. Then as you visit the people to get it all done you are informed again and again that you can't do this or that until you have a DD214 (official retirement paperwork). You do not get a DD214 until you retire. So you are stuck. Once again we are hurrying up to wait. Go Army!
Chaz and I have done everything we can without that DD214. I pointed out that my problem with the IDES system is this. Last year we had to help them find Chaz's medical records because they were lost in the merger. Thanks to high level help, they were found quickly. Then we had to prove Chaz had legs when he entered the Army in 1998. Let's ignore that he has deployed multiple times. Let's ignore all the other physicals he has had along the way. Let's ignore the battlefield reports that disclose all that happened to him. Let's ignore the evacuation orders, medical records and all of the above. We could not begin Chaz's VA appointments until they had his initial entry physical from June 1998 proving he did not have pre-existing conditions.
Fast forward to this year. Last week we had to get our marriage license and the girls birth certificates and bring those in to prove that we are married and the girls are Chaz's. Let's not acknowledge that I have military ID stating my effective date is 23FEB01 (It's written like that). Let's not acknowledge that we had to provide all those certificates to the DEERS system in 2001, 2002 and 2005. No we have to bring it all in. Thank goodness I have the girls birth certificates and I have a friend who has a key to our home and could get me the marriage certificate. By the way you get no notice that you'll need these items. I am not kidding. People do not understand that we are displaced from home and we're not going to be carrying around our marriage certificate. So those coming behind me, go home at Christmas and grab all your documentation so be ready for the MEB/IDES process.
Let me acknowledge that I get it. People abuse the system. But we have more than enough documentation as well as the Army's system to prove who we are that all this extra hassle can be eliminated. If we are going to make the system work we have to examine all aspects of it. We don't need to reinvent the wheel here. We need to stop our one way communication and chuck the egos.
Here was one of my points to the panel. The IRS handles all of the entire United States. They communicate with all of the servers of the tax preparers across the country. They communicate with all of the banks in the country. They communicate with the Social Security Administration. They communicate with the 50 states to help with collect back child support and student loan debts. So explain to me why we can't make a system work for the less than 1% of our citizens who serve our country. You can say what you want about the IRS. I have been dealing with them as long as I have the Army and their system is way more efficient and the IRS is dealing with a many more people. Just a thought to roll around in your head.
Most issues involving the IRS are resolved in 6-8 weeks. The IDES process will take us about 396 days to complete. We are on our tenth month. So the end is near.
The best part about yesterday is that finally people are listening. People are trying to help our warriors. I can only hope my big mouth helped a little. I can assure you this will not be the last blog on the RWTF.