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Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army surgeon general, is touting signs of progress in the sluggish Integrated Disability Evaluation System, saying more soldiers are exiting the process now than entering it.
The comments came amid a multi-year effort by the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs to clean up lengthy backlogs for ill and injured troops leaving the service. IDES was created in 2008 to streamline the process, but it has not met its goals for processing times and inventory management.
In August, the IDES inventory stood at 32,685, of which 25,301 are soldiers, according to a joint DoD-VA briefing to Congress.
“We have decreased our backlog, and we’re on track,” Horoho told Army Times on Oct. 22. “We still have a lot of soldiers who are medically non-ready who are working through the system, but we don’t have a backlog like we had before. That backlog is waiting on the VA disability rating.”
Overall, cases continue to take more than 14 months on average, far above the goal of 295 days for active-duty service members and 305 days for reservists, according to the briefing.
The Army faces the most trouble of the services, with cases taking 437 days on average, according to the briefing; 16 percent of all Army cases are completed within the 295-day goal.
The Army also takes the longest of the services to conduct medical exams, 40 days, five days longer than the target, the briefing states.
The Army has made progress, reducing cases more than 400 days old by 44 percent since February, and it is the only service meeting the goal of 15 days for the Informal Physical Evaluation Board process.
Twenty soldiers have been assisting VA’s disability rating system in Seattle by performing administrative procedures to make IDES cases ready to rate, according to the briefing. The agreement is for them to continue there for another year, when the backlog is projected to be close to elimination.
One holdup in the system is the benefits award phase. According to the briefing, VA is struggling to complete this portion on time. The goal is 30 days, but the average time troops spent in that phase in August was 93 days.
Patricia Kime contributed to this report.