By Alicia Lacy

Killeen Daily Herald

With the well-being of the soldiers at the forefront, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center and Veterans Affairs officials collaborated Tuesday to launch a new Disability Evaluation System and re-sign the Army Medicine Healthcare Covenant, promising excellent care for soldiers and families.

The product of a test pilot program that launched in November 2007 at military medical facilities near the Washington, D.C., area, the new evaluation system makes the process for soldiers easier by combining the Army and Veterans Affairs physicals to produce a single disability rating used by both departments. The new process will make is easier for those soldiers leaving the Army and transferring to the Veterans Affairs system for health benefits.

"They get both their Army Medical Disability Rating and Veterans Affairs Disability Rating all in one shot and are immediately put into care so," said Col. Steven E. Braverman, the medical center's commander. "In the past, they would get their Army Medical Disability Rating through the military and have to wait some period of time to get into the VA system."

The medical center has operated the joint Disability Evaluation System Clinic since February, seeing more than 280 soldiers, 200 of whom have already completed the process.

"Our joint estimation is that almost 1,400 soldiers will participate in this process annually," said Thomas Smith, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System director.

"Since its inception here at Fort Hood, the soldier satisfaction rate has gone up," said Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, III Corps and Fort Hood acting senior commander.

The initial pilot programs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and the Malcolm Grow Air Force Hospital proved to be effective.

"We have 21 pilot studies going on now and it's doing so well that they're looking at a next phase," said Noel Western, Veterans Affairs Department of Defense coordinator for Central Texas. "There's probably a lot of cost savings, but just the time alone is saving a lot of manpower."

Nine Fort Hood and Veterans Affairs leaders signed the covenant reaffirming its commitments to deliver maximized physical and behavioral health promotion, improved quality outcome-focused care and services, improved access and continuity of care.

In addition, the covenant provides high quality care, support during the healing process, assistance for soldiers returning to duty or transitioning from the military and a healing environment that focuses on the mind, body and spirit, the covenant states.

Read more about the implementation of the program and the Army Medicine Healthcare Covenant in Monday's Killeen Daily Herald Wellness page.

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