Military Disability Rating Upgrades From the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR)

If you are a veteran with a military rating lower than your VA disability rating, request an upgrade from PDBR.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law

If you're unhappy with the military disability rating you were given before your medical separation from the military, you can request that the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) review the rating to see if it should be raised. An increased military disability rating can lead to increased retirement benefits and access to military health care.

Medical separation occurs when a service member is deemed to have an "unfitting condition." The Department of Defense (DOD) defines an unfitting condition as any injury or illness that makes a service member unable to return to full duty. These "unfitting conditions" are then rated by the military.

What Does a Military Disability Rating Affect?

Military disability ratings are assigned, pre-discharge, to veterans who are medically retired from the military due to an unfitting condition. These ratings evaluating the severity of the disability are one factor in the determination of monthly cash retirement benefits. The purpose of military disability retirement pay is to compensate a veteran for the loss of future military pay due to the unfitting condition.

Unlike VA disability ratings, military disability ratings are ordinarily permanent.

How Do Military Disability Ratings Differ From VA Disability Ratings?

VA disability ratings are assigned to veterans who are found eligible for VA disability compensation based on service-connected disabilities. These ratings are intended to compensate veterans for lost civilian employment pay. VA service-connected compensation is based entirely on the severity of the disability, and a VA disability rating may be increased or reduced over time based on the degree of disability. Read about collecting military retirement and VA disability at the same time.

What Does the Physical Disability Board of Review Do?

The Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) is a special board that reviews military disability ratings awarded to service members while they were still in the military, before medical separation from the service. Congress created this board in 2008 because of findings that the military was awarding lower ratings for medical conditions for which the Department of Veterans Affairs was awarding higher ratings. The purpose of the PDBR is to ensure disability ratings that are accurate, fair, and consistent with VA ratings for similar disabilities.

Over half of PDBR reviews result in an increased military disability rating. The PDBR does not have the legal authority to lower a military disability rating. Nor can the PDBR address concerns you may have about medical conditions that weren't evaluated when you were medically separated. To ask to have medical conditions evaluated that were excluded when you were medically separated, you will need to request for a correction to your military records.

Who Is Eligible for a Review by the PDBR?

Eligibility for a PDBR review requires:

  • a medical separation from the military between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009
  • a military disability rating issued from a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB)
  • a combined military disability rating of 20% or less, and
  • being denied military retirement benefits.

Individuals who served in the reserves may be eligible if they meet the above requirements and have more than 20 years of total military service ordered by the federal government (even if they have less than 20 years on active duty).

How Does a PDBR Review Help?

The PDBR has the authority to recommend an increase to a military disability rating of 30% or more. If your branch of the military accepts the PDBR recommendation of an increase to 30% or higher, you will have immediate access to all military retirement benefits. This includes lifetime disability retirement benefits, military health care, travel benefits, and more. You can also get retroactive reimbursement for past medical expenses.

In addition, you can purchase the Survivor's Benefit Plan insurance for your dependents. However, you would have to make retroactive insurance payments to bring your plan current.

When Will I See Cash Benefits From a PDBR Upgrade?

A rating upgrade from the PDBR does not lead right away to an increase in monthly cash benefits. However, you will receive retroactive payments back to the date of your medical separation.

But before you can actually receive your new retirement benefits, your prior disability severance pay must first be recouped from your new retirement benefits. Don't worry, you won't see any decrease in your monthly check, it will just be awhile before you will see the increase in your monthly disability retirement pay.

How Do I Request a PDBR Review?

The Department of Defense (DOD) assigned the Air Force with responsibility for managing PDBR reviews for all branches of the military. However, a representative from your branch will be involved in the review process.

To request a review, complete an Application for a Review by the PDBR of a Rating Awarded Accompanying a Medical Separation and send it to the processing center at:

ATTN: PDBR Intake Unit
550 C Street West, Suite 41
Randolph AFB TX 78150-4743

You can find more information at the Physical Disability Board of Review website, and you can contact PDBR at [email protected].

Where Can I Get Legal Help?

You can request free legal help from Lawyers Serving Warriors Program, operated by the National Veterans Legal Services Program, if you meet their eligibility requirements.

If you aren't eligible, you can use Nolo's Lawyer Directory to find a veterans disability lawyer.

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