With the rigors of a military career comes the likelihood of potential injuries.  Unfortunately, these injuries may be life-altering and prove to be detrimental to a continued career in the military.  A service member at this critical crossroad may find themselves facing a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB).

Typically, referral to a MEB starts at the service member’s commanding officer or from a member of a medical treatment facility (MTF), in fact a DD form 689 may be used for such referral.  Under regulations, if a commander believes a Service Member of their command is unable to perform the duties of their office, grade, rank or rating because of physical disability, the commander will refer the Service Member to the responsible MTF.  Once the referral to a MEB has occurred, it is vital that the Service Member understand that accurate and thorough processing through the beginning stages of the Disability System is just as important as any previous mission.

The Process of Medical Processing for Purposes of Disability Evaluation

The primary function of the MEB is to ascertain if the Service Member is able to perform his or her current MOS in light of present medical conditions.  The goal of the MEB for any branch of service is to present a fair, accurate, and impartial presentation to the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) for adjudication and appropriate benefits.  The MEB’s goal is not to seek maximal benefits for a service member’s injuries.  The MEB performs its duty by documenting a Service Members medical status and duty limitations; this requires a review of the Service Member’s medical history and his or her current duty position to determine whether the Service Member still meets retention standards.  Each branch of service has its own retention criteria; for example, the Army lists its criteria in AR 40-501, chapter 3.  Additionally, each branch of service has its own rules for documentation, recommendations, and disposition of the evaluated Service Member (for a quick example see the Army’s regulations at AR 40-400, chapter 7).  Appearances before the MEB for these purposes are unusual. 

The Board, Narrative Summaries and Appeal

It is vital to note that incomplete, inaccurate, misleading, or delayed information to the MEB may result in injustice to the Service Member.  Thus, it is important that a Service Member does not rely on a medical diagnosis alone; instead he or she needs to provide a full and complete history of his or her illness or injury to properly establish that they are unfit for continued military service. 

The members of the MEB are physicians, numbering at least two, who have detailed knowledge of medical fitness standards.  Additionally, physicians who prepare cases for the MEB (and PEB) should be familiar with the Department of Veterans Affairs physical examination worksheets to describe physical defects; this is to ensure consistency in reporting similar conditions.  The physicians assigned to the MEB must establish a correlation between the injuries and the physical requirements of the Service Member’s assigned MOS. 

When faced with relatively short-terms of military service, questions arise about the date of onset for injuries, which only emphasizes the need for a complete medical history packet to be submitted in order to overcome any substantive questions concerning the physicians at the MEB. 

Ultimately, the MEB does not reflect a conclusion of unfitness, the diagnoses will not be qualified as “unfitting”, “disqualifying”, “ratable”, “not ratable.”  However, they will decide which of the Service Member’s diagnoses meet the retention standards and which diagnosis do not meet retention standards.

After the MEB reaches its decision, the Service Member will be provided the opportunity to read and sign the proceedings.  If the Service Member does not agree with any item to the medical board report he or she will be advised of the appeal process.  If the Service Member does not meet medical retention standards, the MEB will recommend referral to the Physical Evaluation Board.