When members of our military are too sick or too injured to continue fighting, they must go through the military’s medical separation process (known as IDES). In its current state, there is a dangerous gap in the system being widened by pockets of unchecked power.
The Defense Health Agency (DHA) is the entity tasked with managing the IDES process, but they refuse to acknowledge they actually own it.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
It means there are people in positions power within the separation process, with little to no accountability. These people hold the titles of “MEB Chiefs,” which are typically Doctors tasked with reviewing the case file of wounded warriors in their region. On paper they report to DHA, but DHA does not acknowledge this chain of command. This creates a problem when a servicemember needs to appeal to a higher authority. He or she has no where to go.
This means the individuals in charge can make isolated, subjective decisions with little or no explanation. These decisions directly affect the soldier’s career, livelihood, disability rating, future retirement benefits, healthcare, and more.
One reckless decision can end careers, limit medical care, and effectively dismiss years of honorable service without regard to a soldier’s potential to recover.
We believe that powerful decisions like these require safeguards in place for the soldier. It’snot enough to have an org chart on paper – there must be checks and balances in place.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
It is a brand-new problem brought about by a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the mid-2010s that authorized the creation of the Defense Health Agency (DHA). It took several years for DHA to be established, but as of 2018, they are now responsible for the medical separation process(IDES) in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
When active-duty wounded warriors have sought personal remedy through their military branches for breakdowns in IDES, they have been told to seek out DHA. When DHA has been made aware of the claims, they point the finger back at the branches and deny any authority to intervene in the process. Meanwhile, wounded warriors are being fast-tracked right out of their careers with no one to advocate for them.
During our own journey through IDES, we personally shed light on this problem in multiple meetings and communications with top leaders in DHA and the Department of Defense. Our hope was that they would own the problem and take immediate action for the sake of those that would come behind us. Instead, they all sympathized with the problem but looked elsewhere to place the blame, offering no solution of their own.
Someone has to own it. Written directives already designate DHA as the entity in charge, but who will ensure they are doing their job? This is where Congress comes in. Each year, they draft a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that dictates policy changes within the military. We are working with members of the House and Senate to draft a “Wounded Warrior’s Bill of Rights” to be included in an upcoming NDAA. We tried working the problem from the bottom up, but now we will have to work it from the top down.
Arc of Justice will commit its time, resources, and expertise to drafting these safeguards that will reform the system.
The medical separation process was never intended to be harmful to our servicemembers. It was designed to evaluate their ability to remain on active duty and if they were found unfit, it was intended to help them successfully transition to a less demanding job on the outside.
IDES stands for “Integrated Disability Evaluation System.” This is a formal process that soldiers go through when they get sick or injured to the point where they can no longer meet the physical requirements of the job. It is initiated by a Doctor, after a certain period of treatment, when they determine a soldier will not be able to meet and maintain the physical standards.
You might hear it referred to as “Med Board,” “Medical Discharge,” “MEB/PEB,” or “IDES” – it’s all the same thing. This is the process they go through before they leave active duty and before they ever receive medical treatment from the Dept of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).
If you want to read more about this process – this is a great summation.
This means that every Servicemember (SM) in all the branches of military needs to be physically/mentally ready to deploy to war at any given time. If he/she cannot meet the standards set forth, within a certain time period granted for recovery, then that SM will be sent through the “medical separation process” and they would no longer be found fit to serve in the military.
We absolutely agree with “Deploy or Get Out” in concept – It is wise to ensure each soldier is ready and able to deploy to war given the current state of global tension.
However, this well-intended policy implemented without accountability has become a weapon against some of our nation’s greatest assets. Regulations meant to serve as safeguards are being disregarded at the expense of the servicemember’s well-being.
You can read the full policy memo here.
The Department of Defense (DOD) stood up an entire new bureaucratic entity called the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to be in charge of all the medical treatment facilities across all branches of the military.
They are an independent agency that reports directly to the Department of Defense, rather than reporting to any of the Secretaries of Army, Navy etc. This means a soldier cannot find remedy through their branch of service, they must appeal directly to DHA or DOD. This can be quite difficult to navigate without an advocate.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
When Will was brainstorming a name for our organization, he knew it had to capture the complexity of the mission and the strength of resolve required to fulfill it.
The theme of Justice needed to be at the core, and finding language that communicated a rallying cry would be essential. He came up with a name and a phrase you’ll hear him say quite often…
MAJ Ostan found inspiration in two contrasting figures. Two very different men of action, yet both warriors in their own rite. You’ll find their influences not only in our logo but in the way we take on giants. The odds never look good for the “little guy” – but if he has the resolve to see the fight through to the end, he just might win!
When faced with insurmountable injustice, Martin Luther King, Jr. responded with this:
“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.”
In contrast, we are also inspired by leaders among the Spartan 300.
When King Leonidus and his fledgling Greek army were pinned down at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, they were vastly outnumbered by the ensuing Persians. A messenger sent word to confirm their disadvantage. Herodotus relayed the story as follows:
It is said that on the eve of battle, he (Dienekes) was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes, however, undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, ‘Good. Then we will fight in the shade.'” – Histories, 7.226 
Thus from antiquity’s most courageous warriors and modernity’s most peacful warrior we draw our inspiration. The name Arc of Justice was born and the phrase we use to sign off all our communications: “Fight in the Shade.”