Know your rights to maximize benefits or fight for your career!
Written by Cmdr. Ted Fowles and Lt. Cmdr. Kristen Curran, CG-094M
WHAT: The Office of Member Advocacy and Legal Assistance CG-094M is required to provide experienced Physical Disability Evaluation System attorneys to all members being processed for separation due to a disability at no cost to the member.
WHEN: A PDES attorney is not assigned to a service member until the Coast Guard through the Informal Physical Evaluation Board issues recommendations and findings and the member elects or requests a PDES attorney. That means that most of CG-094M’s clients have been in the Medical Board process for up to two years sometimes more, before they are entitled to the services of an advocate trained in applicable policies and Veteran’s Administration regulations.
HOW: Step 1: To speak with a PDES attorney, you must complete the election of counsel form that will be sent to you and indicate you wish to consult and be represented by counsel. A PDES attorney will then be assigned to your case and work to educate and advocate for you. If you have any questions regarding the PDES attorney’s role in the process, please call 1-703-872-6918. Step 2: Plan ahead from the time you are assigned a PDES attorney you should expect to be separated in fewer than six months. Step 3: Continually update your medical record every time you see any medical health provider.
Below are useful tips and resources that any Coast Guard member facing a medical board should know.
1. Mind your clock! Most servicemembers are not even eligible to submit a request to remain in the service called a “retention request” until they have 18 years of service. Recent trends imply that merely having 18 years of service is simply not enough to be retained until the member is retirement eligible. There is a big difference from starting a medical board at 16 years and starting it at 18 years. Any time that you are considering surgery or a medical decision that could affect your fitness for duty, consider what is at stake? How close or far away you are from retirement? For some members, a lengthy medical evaluation board process is advantageous, but there is no set average. A MEB can be completed in weeks!
2. Be Proactive and Polite. Be proactive about documenting everything and ensuring your medical record is up-to-date and complete! If something is not documented, it will be hard to prove. Keep all duty chits and emails relating to your conditions and work performance. Also, you are responsible for the accuracy of your medical record. Review your medical record. If you see something in there that is missing, inaccurate or you do not agree with, speak respectfully to your medical care provider or your clinic administrator and ensure the concern is addressed. Medical staff can be your advocates later in the process and you must treat them with the courtesies they are due.
3. Performance matters. Keep working as best as you can within your prescribed duty limitations. Also, being in a medical-hold is not a safe harbor. You are still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
4. Start developing your back up plan. Most Coast Guard members that start the medical board process are ultimately separated from the Coast Guard. Planning earlier decreases your stress level and maximizes your options.
5. Seek out allies. This process is complicated and stressful. It helps to have people on your side. You can find resources and assistance from members of your command, your medical team, work-life staff, Coast Guard Judge Advocate General, non governmental agencies e.g., AMVETS, DAV, Navy Safe Harbor, Wounded Warrior Project, etc, and many more. You are not alone.
6. Develop realistic goals. Arguing that your condition significantly impairs your ability to perform your duties undercuts any chance that you may have of being found fit for full duty. At some point, you have to decide if it makes sense to try to stay in the Coast Guard. Being honest with yourself about your capabilities, limitations, and priorities is crucial to developing realistic goals.
Call a CG-094M PDES attorney. If you are facing a medical evaluation board, you need to be aware of the potential benefits as well as the loss of income. Consulting with a Coast Guard PDES attorney by calling 1-703-872-6918.