VA, DOD push single medical exam, e-benefits site

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments are developing an online site where wounded service members can track their medical recovery needs. VA and DOD are now collecting the requirements that will define the My eBenefits portal, which the President’s Commission for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors recommended.

In another milestone to simplify life for injured service members as they transition to veteran status, VA and DOD agreed to develop a single physical examination for both departments to use. The exam will be the foundation criteria to assess the extent of injuries and medical conditions of service members and their degree of disability to establish benefit payments. The departments have each used their own exams, which often complicates the eligibility process for benefits.

“We will make it easier for these heroes to go back to their homes, with the key questions about their eligibility for VA compensation already decided,” acting VA Secretary Gordon Mansfield said Nov. 7.

The agreement, signed the day before by Mansfield and David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, calls for a test program, which will begin later this month, to evaluate a single physical examination that DOD would use to determine the medical fitness of injured personnel to remain in uniform and that VA would use for awarding disability compensation.

The program involves VA and DOD facilities in Washington and service members at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Naval Medical Center and the Air Force's Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base. VA will perform the medical evaluations, although the agreement notes the physicals could take place in VA medical centers, military installations, VA-contracted examination centers or other facilities. The evaluations will be based on VA's system for disability examinations and include an examination of medical conditions identified by military physicians that question a service member's fitness for duty in addition to other applicable medical conditions identified by the service member with VA.

The single exam and simplification of benefits are among the recommendations by the commission, which is led by former Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services Department secretary in the Clinton administration. The departments are trying to quickly implement the recommendations that are administrative in nature. President Bush created the commission after bureaucratic and administrative roadblocks to proper care for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed were revealed earlier this year. The recommendations focus on soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The portal will integrate existing benefits and related information online sites within the departments. This infrastructure will also be the platform to integrate self-service applications and other online services. The portal will personalize and customize access to content, services and applications related to benefits the service member has earned.

“Returning service members and veterans will be able to find tailored benefit information and services in one place rather than scattered across Web sites and access channels,” VA spokeswoman Alison Aikele said.

The portal will be ready soon for testing before it goes live, said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino at a briefing Nov. 8.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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