IPEB Findings: Separation w/10% Disability - Spinal Problems (Appeal?)


Registered Member
The Informal PEB's decision came back. They want to give me the boot, with only a 10% rating.

I am 9 years 6 months deep into the Air Force (E-5). I developed problems early in my career: I worked on the flightline, hefting parts around, and ended up needing surgery. I had a ruptured/herniated disc (C6/C7) that was removed and C6/C7 was fused (2002).

I retrained in Air Traffic Control in 2005 and symptoms returned. The C6/C7 fusion hadn't healed properly, and additional stenosis was noted between C5/C6. I had another spinal fusion in 2007 (C5/C6/C7), and afterwards continued to have intractable neck and upper back pain (3 to 4/10). I also have left ulnar nerve aggravation from the scars at the surgery site which causes a significant loss of feeling. I am prohibited by my doctor from lifting 10 lbs or more, walking or running greater than .25 mi, and repetitious bending of the back or neck.

I was submitted to the MEB, and MEB sent my case on to the IPEB -- I got their findings Thursday. I am trying to find as much info as possible to determine what I should do. I think I should appeal and fight for a higher rating: the finding was "Cervicalgia Status Post Fusion x2", with a VA Diagnostic Code of 5241 (Spinal Fusion).

I have had a MRI recently that shows "a disc bulge which flattens the thecal sac." in C3-C4, and "a disc bulge asymmetric to the right which flattens the thecal sac. Uncontrovertebral hypertrophy contributes to bilateral mild neural foraminal stenosis" in C4-C5. I don't know if the doc or the IPEB has looked at the MRI or results yet: my (military) chiropractor has seen it, though.

It seems that 10% is a ridiculously low rating for my disabilities, and that "Spinal Fusion" doesn't quite cover it. I entered the Air Force in good faith, and now they want to kick me and my family out on the street with a tiny little check and a "Don't let the doorknob hit ya!"

Is there anyone here with any insight? What should I do? If the VA Diagnostic Code were changed to "Spinal Stenosis" would I fare better?

Please help! I have to agree with the findings or appeal to the formal board within 10 days of notification, and the clock's ticking! :eek::eek::eek:


PEB Forum Veteran
Welcome and sorry to hear of the rating...

I hate to say I would do this or that when its your life, but I sure can't see how it can get worse:confused:. I would fight it. I think neck and backs don't get rated appropriately. I just think its ridiculous.

I know that Jason doesn't like to mix his business on this website...but, when I started looking into my MEB I hired Jason just to look over my records and to see if there was something missing that might make a huge difference. We of course can all give you advice on line, but it made me feel a lot more comfortable knowing that Jason had looked at every piece...my MEB did come back ok with TDRL, but I'm worried about when my case is reviewed. I've seen alot of different ratings..this is unfortunate, but I've noticed 2 exact cases getting rated differently just by what is in the NARSUM and what tests were attached. I cut and paste from this site constantly....I take notes about what everyone is getting for their backs and necks...so make sure that you do a search on this forum and look at what the ratings have been and for what....get the facts. Did you have range of motion tests, did you have the nerve tests for your arm? All that is very important. Good luck to you and keep us posted...this is how we help eachother. :) Take Care.

Jason's business page is www.peblawyer.com


PEB Forum Veteran
you have nothing to lose by fighting it and plenty to gain. don't give up, hang in there and if you haven't already, i would initiate your stuff w/the VA. good luck and keep us posted.


Registered Member
I have an appointment this morning with the PEBLO at 0930 EST. Hopefully she can shed some light on what's going on. :confused: I am going to delay concurring or appealing (will be an appeal, I'm fairly sure) to squeeze out a little extra time to dig around in the regs and my records.

I hope I'm not just being whiny, it just seems that "Spinal Fusion" is a quick answer to try to get me to take a pittance and begone. Particularly when a March 9th '09 MRI shows foraminal stenosis (mild, but it is still causing quite a bit of pain), and "Fusion" doesn't lend any rating regarding the ulnar nerve problem. :mad:


PEB Forum Veteran
Good Morning Sizemore,

You're probably already at your PEBLO appt...hope you are getting the answers you need.

You mentioned that you aren't suppose to bend your neck repeatedly, but do you have limited range of motion when you do? Pain if you do? Radiculopathy from the ulnar nerve damage...? If so, thats the important documentation that can/should make a difference. I would think the stenosis would too. Keep digging.

I'm sorry for your pain...whether the tests say mild or not, I understand there is pain.

Let us know what you find out. Hope your day is great!
Posted a day or so ago on another post, cut an pasted for you...

Also, to add on to what I previously said:
For sure check that randolph site I linked; I was active duty the last time I went there, it's possible that's why I'm having problems with it now, but who knows.

I'm with you; 10% for what you just said, doesn't sound right (or fair) at all. I felt way undercut at 40% from my IPEB which makes it that much harder to go in there and try and get a high rating. You have to go in to the FPEB way highballing it (which I did by asking for 90%). Remember 75% is the max any type or military retirement (regular or medical) will give you. My stuff slows me down every day and has caused some permanent damage, but the worst case for me is dialysis in 20-30 years. There are guys who don't have much time left to hang around and guys missing limbs and they only get 75% of their retired base pay even with a 100% disability. My recomendation is go in there with as high a disibility as you could feasible claim for backs.

Remember, you have all those problems you said. That might not be under one VASR code. Backs are around the 4.71a section (its 38 CFR Code of Fed Regs and you can find it somewhere on the VA website). I (my own interpretation only, and kind of pertaining to your case) view "pyramiding" as, for example, if I broke one joint in my finger, as trying to get a rating for the broken joint in the finger for lack of mobility (?ANKLOSIS?) (if there even is a particular code for one particular finger), , and trying to get that rated again under lack of mobility in your hand, then yet again for lack of mobility in my arm. For this example, I would veiw it worthwhile to make a claim for ?anklosis? (lack of mobility for the finger joint), accute pain in the finger joint that affects your whole hand, headaches (I beleive there is an actual code for this) due to the pain medication, Arthritis from the joint if there was a seperate rating for this, nausea from the arthritis medicine you are taking, and there might even be another rating in the schedule for being on constant ain meds. If each one of those claims is 10%, you could legitimately go in to the board asking for a 60% disability. Although the board is not inclined to give "full credit" according to the VA schedule as mentioned below, at least since you got lowballed comming form the IPEB, you can counter at the FPEB by highballing.

I called up the FPEB lawyers before I got there, over a month in advance, giving me time to prep and get whatever letters they thought I would need, and they were very prompt and cordial about answering all my questions and explaining what they thought were possible outcomes based on all my disibilities. They also explained pyramiding better than I did and explained how you had to make your problem stand out both in rating and in how it affects your life. The finger example, in addition to what I could claim in the VA, in a narrative to the board, would cause other problems not ratable, like can only type 40% as fast as before it was injured, can't write with pen and paper legibly, which makes it almost impossible for you to do one of your primary duties which is XXX where you have to cary around a checklist and make written comments. A tape recorder won't work because you have to turn in the checklist imediately post inspection, and there is no way to bring in a laptop due to security requirements, and having to access tight spaces with the checklist. In addition to having to have your friend drive you to work because banging your hand on the wheel happens way too often and is way too painful, it is not even possible for you to drive the unit's old duece and a half because it requires turning the wheel and using the stick. The truck is necessary for your units opperations because no other vehicle has it's capabilities, and you are one of only two people in the shop who are authorized to use it, and other personel are not assigned to the office long enough to receive training. Although not a primary responibility, the inability for you to drive and support operations is placing a strain on your unit and this is only one of the many things you can not do... etc. etc. etc. The lawyer I called made me feel amost guilty (inadvertantly) by describing the problem he had in the service, whereas my problem had already ruined my life. He was VERY helpful and we talked for over an hour. He described an eczema problem with his hands and how although able to come to work, he was completly unable to work, as he would bleed all over the key board or paperwork, and although he could choose to wrap bandages around it, they added too much bulk and did not air enough to help heal his hands. As to explain how, even though he could make it into work, he still had a disability, he stated that how could choose to go to the hospital, but that wouldnt do any good. He also somehow fit a wheelchair in there, too. But you see how I made a simple finger problem seem like I was a complete gimp, whereas all I know from your back so far is it may cause some motion problems and it hurts, and you (may) need a surgury. I had surgery before, I was back at work in two days. Ohhh... your surgery (that you need but can't get yet because you have a duty to do while still in the service, which this surgery will take you out and away form doing) could, in addition to all the normal complications of surgery which you would also list, make you a parapalegic, not even fix the problem at all or possibly even make it worse, has a low sucess rate, will take you out for months, leave you in more pain than you are already in, require more medication which causes more problems, cost 1 trillion dollars because you have to take into account the fact that with only 10% disability you would not have any insurance (which you would not be able to afford with a pre-existing disability), and the small (yet well very well received and appreciated) lump sum you got for your disability would not begin to cover the costs, and you have to put the kids in childcare while your wife has to start working at a low rate because she has spent the last few years with the kids instead, and you have to sell the wifes car to help pay for expenses, which is OK because you won't be driving until 3-4 monthe later after taken off the narcotics, plus taking into account the opportunity cost of not being able to work for half a year and when you can finally work, it will be doing something less than you could otherwise...etc.etc.etc.

That is what you need to be prepared to do for the FPEB. I was pleased to find out that the effects of the drugs are taken into account along with your disability, as the drugs I am on are making me sicker that I already am, and, although having the potential to help me in the long run, aren't making me any better.

It's up to you and your lawyers to get creative, but you will need support form your doctors. Get letters that support the facts of how bad your back is, how long it will take you out. get letters form friends, etc. The lawyers have a list fo things you need to do to prepare. If you press hard enough, I bet even if you are at a good base with only base docs, you could eventually get approved to go see a civilian doc off base. And (it definately wouldn't be worth doing just to say you had to do so) you could get from a civilan doc the cost of the visit and the cost of the surgury. Even if Tricare covers the visit, there is still a way to find out how much Tricare is having to reimburse the doc.

Hopefully this isn't too much yammering to not make sense...

1&2: is discharge honorable and with DD214?

3: Do I apply for new GI Bill?

4: Do I have to finish commitment if reevaled and found fit?

Been TDRL for 3 months. l Concur with #1&#2. For #3: call base education office and don't stop until you have ALL answers. It's possible you might benifit more by paying into old GI bill, which I think you have to pay into BEFORE you get your more than HONORABLE DISCHARGE and DD214. When I left (20 Jan 2009) new GI bill still wasn't finalized, and there were a lot of case sepcific variables for me that waranted a lot of asking around. Might also try VA for #3 questions. ALL the VA guys I've talked to seem to care more about me than I care about myself! Also look into Voc[atioinal] rehab through the VA. GI bill aside, that could be a masters/undergrad/truckdriving school/pilot licence all by itself, although don't count on it, as you will not know if you are eligible until well after you are retired and the VA gets back to you concerning your VA claim.

For #4: "Short" Answer with "background" below (only been 4 months, still venting I suppose): I have no clue what will happen as far as getting re-evaled, but am looking into it. If my health does improve, I hope it is not an entirely new ball game when revaled, as I was discharged when at the peak of my disability. I'm hoping if still found "gimp" (over 30%) that the numbers stay the same or similar as when first evaluated. The most useful site I have found is also straight from the horses mouth at Randolph's AF Personel Center and applies to AF members. Please let me know if you are able to access it or not as I can not currently get to it and have submitted a tech request. This site has been extremely helpful to me in the past on several occasions.

AFPC - Air Force Personnel Center

Of course usmilitary.about.com (and the DOD and AF Regs they list) and the VA Schedule for Rating Disibilities (VASRD) were extremely helpful to me as well.

My understanding is you WILL be re-evaluated through another PEB. As far as when, from talking to the guys who do nothing but PEB stuff (namely my AF FPEB lawyer and my PEBLiasionO?fficer?) I expect to get a letter that I need go back in about 1yr from my FPEB date, and that after 18 months they will permanantly retire you if you haven't "stabilized" yet. I understand that either the AF or DOD regs give a total of 5 years in which you could be on the TDRL. In the case of the AF (which has actually been "forceshaping" out hundreds if not thousands of officers and enlisted over the past 4-5 years) I imagine if you had a condition which could legitimatly correct itself and you REALLY put up a fight and appealed to the AF Secretary as loudly as you could, that whole 5 years could possibly be utilized.

As far as finishing your comitment, my PEBLOs said something about going into the reserves to finish out a commitment. The particular PEBLO who had done this was enlisted. Also (this one sentence might make it worth reading this far), this particular discussion seemed to indicate that going the particular route that he took allowed him to keep at least some medical retirement benifits even though found fit. Of course, I am still looking into this and can't get into the AF site that answers these questions. If you really do some reading, this does not seem like that unrealistic of a possibility, as the DES (Disability Eval Sys) is set up to compensate you for the time you were employed and the fact that you are now no longer able to retire, not just the fact that you are disabled. Also of note, the DOD DES system typically rates lower than the VA's "whole person concept" because the DES is designed for that particular function; to compensate for the fact that you can not work, where as the VA compensates for the fact that your entire life is now more difficult. As such, the % rating you get from an FPEB (and if you are luck from the IPEB) should roughly equate to the amount of work you can no longer do. For example, if 10% disabled under DES, I should be functioning at 90% capacity at work, even if that same disability is rated at 30% in the VASRD. Case in point, I have some big prolems with depression that are rated by the AF/DOD DES at 10%, although I could have easily been rated at 30% looking at the VA schedule at the time.

I am under the belief that regardless of what the number is that the IPEB gave you, the FORMAL PEB will rate you higher, although the FPEB can decide whatever they want and go in whatever direction they see fit (it is an entirely "start from scratch" hearing of your case, although the board mebers know more about what is wrong with you that you have figured out yourself at the time of the hearing). I truley believe, having gone through it, that the AF FPEB is "FAIR," although this does not mean they are "on your side," or will "hook you up." This means that you will still have to go in there acting like the gimp you spend so much effort trying not to be, and have all your facts in order before you speak to your lawyer. I think the Army is not very "fair" at all. In addition to one of my AF FPEB board members formally commenting negatively on the Army FPEB system during an "FPEB Inprocessing" breif, the internet is ripe with horror stories from Army guys with stories that do not make me proud of the way some people are treated. In the AF FPEB process, I personally went from 40% permanant retirement to 60% TDRL, and I still feel like I could have been rated higher. At least if I get worse I will have the opportunity to up my rating when re-evaled. The TDRL re-eval is designed to protect you (according to the regs) in the case that your condition could get worse so you are not stuck with a low rating when the next 1-1.5 yrs could get worse. The regs might also say it is to protect teh AF/DOD interests as well, although I can't remember.

My condition could clear up any day, at which point my performance would almost imediately go back to normal, but I have been sick for over 2 years now. It's possible I might be a stud again when I am up for review again, but I always knew I'd be happier as a civilian, I just thought I had a thing or two to offer the AF plus liked contributing to the greatest job ever. Plus, I got kicked around pretty hard by work when down, and as this is the second time I've been in that boat, I learned the first time that life was too short for that kind of treatment. Guess my point is, regardless of my condition when re-evaled, I might actually prefer the civilan life. If I ever feel the "calling" again, I can hire on as a contractor doing whatever I feel like getting hired for in whatever country, job, or operational environment (deskwork, gruntwork, flying, wrenchturning, whatever I want) and not only get paid more, but also contribute as much or as little as I want and tell my bosses how I really feel.


Registered Member
5yr AF Engineer-- thanks for your repost! There was quite a bit in there that helped me make a decision, as well as comforted me somewhat. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one that thinks its BS.

Chinook, Robs42-- in regards to your questions: I DID have a range of motion eval done by several of the caretakers I have been to. HOWEVER, the flight doc sent me to the AF Physical Therapy office (who I never worked with, met only once for a RoM) and they numbers they reported are preposterous! I'm literally amazed by the audacity of these jokers. They apparantly reported numbers that indicate that I have a GREATER range of motion than "normal range" (i.e. normal is 0-45 deg and they said I have 49!), YET the text of the eval claims reduced range of motion in all planes. Every Physical Therapist who has worked with me has done a RoM and they all showed degraded range- which you would expect from someone who has 43% of the vertebrae in their neck fused into one big block of bone. My AF Chiropractor (who I see weekly) said it was ridiculous, he could determine I don't have hardly any range just by looking at me and based on the work he's done on me. The PEBLO said the RoM was likely the main factor they used in assigning the 10%.

I have constant pain, usually 3-4 out of 10, and thats without any movement. My relationship with my wife and kids is strained: my pain puts me into foul moods frequently and shortens my fuse quite a bit. They understand, but its hard on them nonetheless. I can't walk for any significant duration, I can't endure any impact type exercise. If I sit too long (30 min or so) I have to stand to help reduce the pain. If I stand too long, same thing. I use a TENS unit, which does provide some relief, but I have to constantly shift treatment around for it to be effective in any significant way. My pain management doctor has me taking Percocet (Burst Pain Relief) 10/325 up to 4x a day, Norflex (Muscle Relaxer) 2x a day, and Methadone HCl 10 mg (Long Duration Pain Relief) 1x each night. He recommended I take Diphenhydramine HCl at night as well because I have had difficulty sleeping and staying asleep. I have had steroid injections which met with limited effect.

I DO have significant radiculopathy in my left arm. A Nerve Conduction Study confirms the nerves are intact and transmit normally, thus the pain and numbness is attributed to the foraminal stenosis and scarring.

The Spinal Stenosis diagnosis is documented postsurgery by my orthopaedic surgeon in a prescription and referral to Physical Theraphy and Chiropractic care. He no longer handles my care, as his referral was concluded with the X-Ray confirmed bone fusion of C5/C6/C7.


Registered Member
I met with my PEBLO this morning and filed the AF Form 1180, "Action on Informal Physical Evaluation Board Findings and Recommended Disposition".

I indicated "I do not agree with the findings and recommended disposition of the Informal PEB and request a formal hearing of the case."

My PEBLO hasn't had anyone go to a Formal PEB in a while, so she couldn't tell me how long I might be waiting this time. However, she said in a week or so, I will receive an email (either directly from the Formal PEB or forwarded by her) assigning me an attorney and giving me a Report date (about 3-4 weeks out) to go TDY to Lackland AFB (for 1-2 weeks) to meet my attorney. The attorney will have received and reviewed my full medical record and hopefully will have called me a week or so prior to discuss the case and inquire about any new medical documentation I may have aquirred.

After I meet my attorney in Lackland and we review my case over several days, the attorney will get a date a couple of days later for us to appear in front of the Formal PEB (a whole new board not consulting with the Informal PEB). The Attorney will present the case, the Board will ask me a few questions about my disabilties and how they affect not only my career, but my personnal life. After all the case has been presented, the PEB will deliberate and deliver their decision immediately (could be 10 min to several hours later). I will have to consider the Formal PEB's findings and agree or disagree on the AF Form 1180 immediately as well.

If I agree to be separated at this point, my Date of Separation will be set 90 days out. If I disagree, my case will be referred to SAFPC (Secretary of the Air Force's PEB) for review and final decision. This decision cannot appealed.

Is this the correct course that my case will go through? Plz advise if able.

just want to add:
Don't wait for anyone to contact you. Call your lawyers now! You can get to their contact info on the link I posted (not sure if this one works, try the one in my previous post below, or go through the AFPC site until you come accross the DES link; I can't emphasize how valuable this info was for me):
AFPC - Air Force Personnel Center

Because I stayed over the weekend, I was there for only 4 days. Most guys showed up on the first day and maybe met with the board on the second. Also, the lawyer almost certainly wont go through anything on your case until you are face to face. You will have the option of going with your AF lawyer, or chosing a rep from the VA who will also have a face to face with you. Even if you know which one you want off the bat, get as much help from them as you can; they do this for a living.

Everything you do from now until you salute the board in conclusion needs to focus around your central argument. "I respectfully request that my case be formally reviewed by the board and beleive that a disability percentage of XX is fitting for my condition because..."

The FPEB is AF members with common sense, but if I were you I would already be in "attack mode," and would present to the board in that mindset. You have already done that on this forum; you were given a low rating that was obviously not indicitive of your actual condition, and you respectfully request that the percentage rating of your disability be revaluated based on your condition and the supporting evidence. Notice I did not use the terms "crock of shit." Would the board rather spend their energy (and they are very busy) on someone pissed off with the system when they could spend their time better by getting you out there as quick as they can and spending a full hour on the guy right behind you who was curteous and smiling (although very sick) since the first day he inprocessed? You will get heard, and they are "fair." But rememer this! In order to be heard, you will have to come at them with absolutley everything you have, and it is imposible to be heard if you do not speak! This is the one time in your career it DOES NOT pay to be soldier. You are hurt and need to come across that way. If you mask your pain, how are they going to know you are hurt.

Another thing that might help; you are competing against everyone else who is sick for your "share of the take." If you have an exact twin in there but you don't argue hard with a smile on your face but he does, you might get 20% and he might get 40%. How fair would that be. Speak up (and be respectful/courteous) to the board. I would expect them to try and "trick" you into telling them all the things you can do. Try and remember to tell them all the things you can't do, and have it supported by your testemony, your medical records (you should have 4-5 apointments lined up already to docs you know will point out your flaws in all thier glory), and all your other evidence.

Make a list of everything you will need and dont stop until you have it all.
1. Letters from friends
2. Letters from docA, docB, docC (don't miss a single one, the bad doc might write good letters and vice versa)
3. letters form co-workers on how you can't do your job (remind them that you don't want them to say how strong you are and what youve managed to push through, tell them to just list all the bad things and things you can't do; you don't want come accross as a productive person or someone who is able to "push through" their ailment, even at great cost
4. Letters from bosses (current ones about how bad you are, past bosses from when you were well (if it happened overnight) about how good you were back then. LORs, LOCs, harsh e-mails, etc.
5. make a list of all your docs and get all your medical records.
6. Etc.

Not sure if this will help you, but to add to the note on competing with others, there was a guy who had met the board 4 or more years before retirement due to back problems, and was meeting it for the second or third time with only 1 year left until retirement when i was at the FPEB. He was in pretty bad shape as far as his back goes, but they let him stay in. someone just the week before may have come in with almost the same problems as you and requested (and been granted) staying in the AF. They might be a crazy SOB for doing so, but still, it is possible that is what you are up against. The guy who I saw didn't have any problems I noticed (I think he had some fused lower vertebrees, some surgeries, pain pills, etc.). Of course, he went to the board trying to tell them there was absolutely nothing wring with them. bottom line; go in there on fire beleiving yourself about how gimp you are and don't quit fighting until your reporting out of the room.


PEB Forum Veteran
5yrAFSGT, is so damn right on this one.

example: the other day my physical therapist brought up a good point to me. he said befor i came into PT he was reading my file/medical history and he said to me, "dude on paper you are a train wreck" i thought that was so damn funny, because i am :D. what i'm getting @ is all they see is what's on paper. they don't get to see the stuff that we deal w/everyday that's not on there. i have days i can't get in and out of bed. time where i try and do a menial task like pick up something on the floor and i can't do it and then when i do do it, i'm spent for the rest of the day. they can't see what happens when i try to go out to a store and i have to leave w/in minutes, because of pain or my PTSD kicks in and i can't cope. they can't see how much it pains me when my 8yr old son says "daddy can we wrestle?" and i can't because i'll end up in the hospital.

sorry for venting! i could go on and on w/this shit all day.


Registered Member
So I've been waiting this whole time- I was supossedly going to receive an email telling me which fPEB attorney my case was assigned to, and a reporting date to go to Lackland.

I have been calling my PEBLO like crazy, but the woman doesn't answer my calls (or return them). I shot her an email, and finally got a response.

She says the PEB wants me to fill out a new AF Form 1185 (datasheet), which she claims she argued against because "it makes no sense whatsoever." She said that once the 1185 gets faxed back then they will set my Formal Board date.

Why would the PEB say/do this? Is this normal ops? I am headed over to her office this afternoon to take care of it.

Next steps after this (correct me if I'm wrong):
1. Receive email with report date to fPEB
2. Travel to Lackland, consult with atty
3. When atty is ready, he/she will set Board Date with fPEB
4. fPEB, which will make a decision immediately

4a, b, c... deal with the aftermath...

NOTE: I am pursuing additional RoM evals, medical opinions, character letters, & so on. The expected argument is to get that % as high as possible - I don't think they will let me stay in after I saw the iPEB desicion.
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