The Office of Soldiers’ Counsel, OSC, is an organization of judge advocates and Civilian attorneys/paralegals spread out over 30 locations worldwide, with roughly 200 attorneys and paralegals. The organization has representatives ready to assist Soldiers throughout their disability process, with specific counsel for the Medical Evaluation Board, MEB, stage of their case, and other counsel for the Physical Evaluation Board, or PEB, stage. There are also supporting personnel in the headquarters section of the organization.
One important aspect of the Soldiers’ disability process, otherwise known as the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, IDES, is that there are no lawyers on the “other side.” Even though IDES is a non-adversarial process, OSC personnel are bound by all the ethical rules and responsibilities that govern a law practice. They must keep client personal and health information confidential, and carry out clients’ wishes within ethical and legal boundaries.
Some stakeholders serve interests of both the Soldiers involved and the government. OSC personnel exist solely to represent the Soldier-client in IDES. They do not represent the Soldier’s command or the military hospital.
Sometimes the client will chose a course of action that their OSC counsel has advised against. The Soldier’s counsel helps the client make a thoroughly informed decision; however the decision is still the client’s to make.
Discussion between the counsel and client regarding their IDES case can’t be discussed with others, without the client’s consent. OSC counsel also can’t advise other IDES stakeholders on legal issues, although they give their interpretation of the various laws and regulations that guide the disability process. They are also involved with helping shape policy through an open dialogue with the IDES Service Line, ensuring Soldier concerns are represented and accounted for.
Soldiers who enter the IDES process to determine if their military career can continue due to their medical conditions will be briefed by various stakeholders throughout the process.
There are three distinct times where a Soldier should seek out the OSC-SMEBC office. First, when referred into a MEB, a Soldier will have a generalized telephonic brief regarding the IDES process and involvement with the SMEBC office with one of the paralegals. Second, when a Soldier receives MEB findings, he or she should seek out a consult with their SMEBC. Finally, when a Soldier receives PEB findings, he or she should again schedule a consult with their SMEBC. These are critical periods in a Soldier’s case; and OSC personnel are here to help during this time.
OSC attorneys are encouraged to have open lines of communication with the other IDES stakeholders to include PEB liaison officers, or PEBLOs, MEB and PEB personnel, and VA representatives. Having these lines of communication open ensures Soldiers’ interests are identified, and can lead to informal results that can benefit both the Soldier and the Army, while maintaining advocacy and representation of the client-Soldier.
Legal advice for the other stakeholders, such as the PEBLO, should come from the military hospital’s judge advocates or the staff judge advocate on post. The physical disability agency which oversees the disability process has its own attorney, who provides opinions on the regulations and policies involved in IDES.
While OSC represents Soldiers’ interests, all stakeholders have an interest in ensuring a fair and complete process for Soldiers. In that spirit, OSC encourages Soldiers to provide feedback to all the stakeholders throughout the IDES process, so that it improve and benefit all those who come after.
Those interested in more information regarding the IDES process and how OSC can assist them, should contact the SMEBC Office at Fort Bliss, Texas, at 915.742.3374/3784/2117/5114.