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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Jan. 10, 2024

When Plans Change: Facing Medical Separation in the Coast Guard

By Jason Allred, MyCG Web Editor

For those of us who desire lifelong military benefits, twenty years is the gold standard, resulting in a title only given to the most dedicated of servicemembers: “Retiree.”

If you're unable to earn your retirement because of an illness or injury, what then? The Office of Member Advocacy assists servicemembers with the challenges that accompany medical separation. The team's mission is to provide prompt, professional, independent legal counsel to sick, or injured Coast Guardsmen going through the Disability Evaluation System (DES). This assistance can help servicemembers secure a bright future. 

I’m facing a medical separation. Now what?

While every uniformed member's situation is different, there are some general guidelines that can help you ensure you understand the process and your rights. Putting the process together is like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece fits together to make the bigger picture. To get a complete picture, you have to consider and analyze each piece.

  1. Ensure you have a clear understanding of what exactly is being proposed for your career. It is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel by contacting the Office of Member Advocacy by emailing
  2. Ask to receive a copy of your medical evaluation board (MEB) file from your local Health Services Technician (HSC), or Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer (PEBLO). This will normally include a copy of your medical narrative summary (NARSUM), as well as input from your command. You should be offered a chance to file a rebuttal before the file is sent forward to the Informal Physical Evaluation Board (IPEB). Seek legal counsel before deciding whether to submit a rebuttal! Once something is placed in your file, it may have consequences you are not aware of. 
  3. If your MEB package has been completed and is ready to be sent to the IPEB, meet with the PSC Ombudsman to discuss your case when contacted and instructed to do so. 
  4. Begin assembling a full copy of your complete medical records, to include all records from both private doctors and your service treatment records. Your assigned legal counsel will need to have access to your full record to effectively represent your interests. 


How does the Office of Member Advocacy help me?

Understanding the general process of these decisions will help you understand what's available and what to expect. There are three stages in the DES process, however typically, most cases are resolved prior to reaching the third stage. There's the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) stage, the Informal Physical Evaluation Board (IPEB) stage, and then the Formal Physical Evaluation Board (FPEB) stage. The FPEB stage is normally only entered after all other options to resolve the case have failed. The member chooses whether to appear before the FPEB. 

  1. MEB and Informal board stage 
  • Explain the rights afforded to each member 
  • Review the facts of the case 
  • Read the MEB 
  • Assist the client with drafting and filing Rebuttals 
  • Interview potential witnesses
  • Track down additional documentation 
  • Advise the client on accepting or rejecting the findings 
  • Explain VASRD requirements 
  • Discuss benefits 
  • Inform the member of various issues like combat related pay, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability filing, unemployment, Social Security disability, and Navy Safe Harbor Program, etc. 
  1. IPEB Stage 

  • Assist with retention requests 
  • Seek extensions to allow the member more time 
  • Ask for reconsiderations if the member feels the rating is not accurate or based on incomplete information 
  • Request a Disposition Medical Board or Addendum if the member is undergoing surgery or some other long-term medical regimen or if the medical data is outdated 

 3. FPEB Stage 

  • Advise members of their rights 
  • Submit documentary and physical evidence 
  • Call witnesses to support the member’s claims 
  • Challenge the Government’s evidence as appropriate 
  • Make arguments supporting the member’s position 
  • Prepare and submit rebuttal 

Understanding your rights and responsibilities is key to exercising them as you see fit during this process. This is where knowledge is power, and if you don't have a legal background, you might want some help sifting through everything. Navigating this process alone is like not having a road map when traveling in an unfamiliar environment. Without the right information, you can easily get lost and end up with a less than desirable outcome.

  • You have the right to legal counsel, either appointed by CG-LMA , or Civilian Counsel at your own expense. 
  • You have the right to submit a Rebuttal to your MEB package 

The Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) vs. The Physical Disability Evaluation System (PDES) 

There are two distinct DES processes. Our Sister Services primarily use the IDES, which includes full evaluation of the members by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  This allows members to receive their VA ratings and compensation at the time of medical separation. The Coast Guard currently primarily uses what is considered a legacy DES, the PDES.  The PDES uses VA standards to determine Coast Guard disability ratings for the members, but does not have any additional connection to the VA. Members that go through the PDES process will be encouraged to file for their VA benefits independently using the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) process. The Coast Guard is in the second phase of an IDES pilot program and the Personnel Services Division, Medical Administration Branch (PSD Med) is planning for a gradual transition to IDES over the next few years. 

Parting wisdom  

“Both members going through this process and their commands are often in the dark when it comes to the intricacies of the Disability Evaluation System.” said Charles Hasberry Jr., lead disability attorney for CG-LMA. “There is a lot of misinformation that gets spread and it can be difficult to know what is true. While the primary mission of the Office of Member Advocacy’s Disability attorneys is to represent members undergoing evaluation, they also offer general briefings via Teams to commands interested in helping their members and leaders understand the process.”

To request a briefing, email the Lead Disability Attorney, Charles Hasberry Jr., at




PDES Manual  

Frequently Asked Questions  

Benefits Delivery at Discharge Program - Veterans Benefits Administration ( 

In the News  

Important medical standards update expected to improve retention of Coast Guard members and ease requirements for those entering the service