How do I Prepare for the Physical Evaluation Board?
Service members who are injured or who suffer from medical conditions and can't perform required duties, will enter a two-step process to determine whether they can continue serving and whether they are entitled to disability benefits.
The first step of the process is the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB), which is an informal board composed of at least 2 physicians who clearly document any medical conditions and determine if a military member meets retention standards. If the MEB determines that a service member is unfit to continue serving, the file is then sent to the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), which provides a formal finding of medical fitness and determination of eligibility for disability benefits.
The PEB process can be confusing for inexperienced attorneys and downright daunting for a service member suffering from injuries or a severe medical condition. In some ways, this process can be even more unsettling than the Social Security disability process for civilians. During the formal PEB process, board members may ask difficult questions about your condition or injury, so it's important to be prepared and make your best possible case. Because of this and because there’s often a lot riding on a PEB determination, you should be sure to seek counsel and/or representation from a seasoned military law attorney experienced with the PEB process.
The Physical Evaluation Board Procedure
At a formal PEB hearing, the service member is given the opportunity -- with the assistance of an attorney -- to present their case with sworn testimony and medical evidence. Service members are typically provided active duty counsel, but a service member can hire a civilian attorney (at their own expense) if they need more involved assistance and advice.
The PEB will determine a military member's:
- Fitness or unfitness to continue military service
- Eligibility for disability compensation
- Disability rating (ranging from zero to 100%)
- Disposition of the Soldier's case
- Whether or not the injury or illness is combat-related
At the hearing, an opening statement is given; the member of the military and any witnesses are questioned by both the individual's attorney and the PEB; and then a closing statement is given. Once a majority of the PEB agrees on a result, the decision is given. If the individual agrees with the PEB, the decision is finalized.
At each phase of the disability process, the soldier can appeal the decisions made in his case. An experienced military law attorney will know where and when to file an appeal.
What the Physical Evaluation Board Looks For
The PEB is the service members' best chance to make his or her case for disability benefits. Thus it is crucial to understand what the board is looking for during its review and to be prepared for the process.
Remember, a formal PEB hearing is held to determine if the service member is fit to perform the duties of his or her rank, office, or grade. The PEB also looks at medical evidence to determine how the military member's illness or injury affects his or her daily activities of living.
The board will place a great deal of weight on the service member's credibility. To show credibility, you must be honest and forthcoming when answering questions about the injury or condition.
The injured service member should provide consistent answers to questions. The same question may be asked in different ways to check for consistency. The PEB will compare testimony to medical or personnel records.
Preparing for the Physical Evaluation Board
Due to the importance of honesty and consistency, it's recommended you practice answering questions that may be posed by the PEB. Note that "practicing" does not mean coaching or crafting answers. It means familiarizing yourself with the types of questions the PEB may ask, so that you’re comfortable and better able to respond.
This is where an attorney (either one that is appointed to you or retained) can help the most. The attorney ideally will have been to several formal PEB hearings. Drawing on that experience, the attorney can help prepare you for questioning.
Here are some (but not all) possible questions the PEB may pose to service members:
- What do you want the board to do for you?
- How much work/school have you missed because of your medical condition?
- Has any time from work been missed because of medical appointments, quarters, going home early, etc.?
- When is the last time you went to the doctor and/or emergency room?
- What medication did you take today/yesterday?
- Is the pain constant?
As you can see, there are a lot of variables to a physical evaluation board hearing. You want to be sure to have an experienced military law attorney to help you through the process and ensure you are fully prepared at each stage.