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Military & Veteran Lawyer > Blog > Resources > AR 635-40 Chapter 3: Policies

AR 635-40 Chapter 3: Policies

Chapter 3


3–1. Standards of unfitness because of physical disability

The mere presences of an impairment does not, of itself, justify a finding of unfitness because of physical disability. In each case, it is necessary to compare the nature and degree of physical disability present with the requirements of the duties the Soldier reasonably may be expected to perform because of their office, grade, rank, or rating.

a.  To ensure all Soldiers are physically qualified to perform their duties in a reasonable manner, medical retention qualification standards have been established in AR 40–501, chapter 3. These standards include guidelines for applying them to fitness decisions in individual cases. These guidelines are used to refer Soldiers to a MEB. The major objective of these standards is to achieve uniform disposition of cases arising under the law. These retention standards and guidelines should not be interpreted to mean that possessing one or more of the listed conditions or physical defects signifies automatic disability retirement or separation from the Army. The fact that the Soldier has one or more defects sufficient to require referral for evaluation, or that these defects may be unfitting for Soldiers in a different office, grade, rank, or rating, does not justify a decision of physical unfitness.

b.  The overall effect of all disabilities present in a Soldier whose physical fitness is under evaluation must be considered. The effect will be considered both from the standpoint of how the disabilities affect the Soldier’s performance and the requirements imposed on the Army to maintain and protect him or her during future duty assignments. A Soldier may be unfit because of physical disability caused by a single impairment or physical disabilities resulting from the overall effect of two or more impairments even though each of them, alone, would not cause unfitness.

c.  All relevant evidence must be considered in evaluating the fitness of a Soldier. Findings with respect to fitness or unfitness for military service will be made on the basis of the preponderance of the evidence. Thus, if the preponderance of evidence indicates unfitness, a finding to that effect will be made. For example, when a referral for physical evaluation immediately follows acute, grave illness or injury, the medical evaluation may have the greater weight. This is particularly true if medical evidence establishes the fact that continued service would be harmful to the Soldier’s health or would prejudice the best interests of the Army. A Soldier may be referred for physical evaluation under other circumstances. If so, evaluations of the performance of duty by supervisors (letters, efficiency reports, or personal testimony) may provide better evidence than a clinical estimate by the Soldier’s physician describing the physical ability to perform the duties of the office, grade, rank, or rating. Thus, if the evidence establishes the fact that the Soldier adequately performed the normal duties of his or her office, grade, rank, or rating until the time of referral for physical evaluation, the Soldier might be considered fit for duty. This is true even though medical evidence indicates the Soldier’s physical ability to perform such duties may be questionable.

However, inadequate duty performance should not be considered as evidence of physical unfitness unless a cause and effect relationship exists between the inadequate duty performance and the presence of physical disabilities.

a.  Initial enlistment, induction, or commissioning physical standards are not relevant to deciding unfitness for continued military service. Once a Soldier has been enlisted, inducted, or commissioned, the fact that the Soldier may later fall below initial entry physical standards does not, in itself, authorize separation or retirement unless it is also established that the Soldier is unfit because of physical disability as described above. Likewise, a lack of special skills in demand, inability to meet physical standards for specialized duty such as flying, or transfer between components or branches within the Army, does not, in itself, establish eligibility for disability separation or retirement. Although the ability of a Soldier to reasonably perform his or her duties in all geographic locations under all conceivable circumstances is a key to maintaining an effective and fit force, this criterion (world-wide deployability) will not serve as the sole basis for a finding of unfitness

b.  Prior-service medical conditions are to be considered according to the following standards and limitations.

(1) Despite any other provisions of this regulation, after a Soldier has been enlisted, inducted, and appointed or commissioned, the Soldier will not be declared physically unfit for military service because of disabilities known to exist at the time of the Soldier’s acceptance for military service that have remained essentially the same in degree since acceptance, and have not interfered with the Soldier’s performance of effective military service.

(2) Nowithstanding the above, when a Soldier enters the military with a waiver for a medical condition or physical defect, and the condition represents a decided medical risk which would probably prejudice the best interests of the Government were the Soldier to remain in military service, separation without benefits may be appropriate, if initiated within 6 months of initial entry on active duty. Entry physical standards will be used in separating individuals with preexisting medical conditions. Such cases will be referred to a PEB to determine if the pre-existing condition has been service-aggravated.

3–2. Presumptions

The following presumptions will apply to physical disability evaluation:


(1) A Soldier was in sound physical and mental condition upon entering active service except for physical disabilities noted and recorded at the time of entry.

(2) Any disease or injury discovered after a Soldier entered active service, with the exception of congenital and hereditary conditions, was not due to the Soldier’s intentional misconduct or willful neglect and was incurred in line of duty (LD).

(3) If the foregoing presumptions are overcome by a preponderance of the evidence, any additional disability or death resulting from the preexisting injury or disease was caused by military service aggravation. (Only specific findings of “natural progression” of the preexisting disease or injury, based upon well-established medical principles are enough to overcome the presumption of military service aggravation.)

(4) Acute infections and sudden developments occurring while the Soldier is in military service will be regarded as service-incurred or service-aggravated. Acute infections are those such as pneumonia, active rheumatic fever (even though recurrent), acute pleurisy, or acute ear disease. Sudden developments are those such as hemoptysis, lung collapse, perforating ulcer, decompensating heart disease, coronary occlusion, thrombosis, or cerebral hemorrhage. This presumption may be overcome when a preponderance of the evidence shows that no permanent new or increased disability resulting from these causes occurred during active military service or that such conditions were the result of “natural progression” of preexisting injuries or diseases as in (3), above.

(5) The foregoing presumptions may be overcome only by a preponderance of the evidence, which differs from personal opinion, speculation, or conjecture. When reasonable doubt exists about a Soldier’s condition, an attempt should be made to resolve the doubt by further clinical investigation and observation and by consideration of any other evidence that may apply. In the absence of such proof by the preponderance of the evidence, reasonable doubt should be resolved in favor of the Soldier.


(1) Disability compensation is not an entitlement acquired by reason of service-incurred illness or injury; rather, it is provided to Soldiers whose service is interrupted and they can no longer continue to reasonably perform because of a physical disability incurred or aggravated in service.

(2) When a Soldier is being processed for separation or retirement for reasons other than physical disability,continued performance of assigned duty commensurate with his or her rank or grade until the Soldier is scheduled for separation or retirement, creates a presumption that the Soldier is fit. An enlisted Soldier whose reenlistment has been approved before the end of his or her current enlistment, is not processing for separation; therefore, this rule does not apply. The presumption of fitness may be overcome if the evidence establishes that—

(a) The Soldier was, in fact, physically unable to perform adequately the duties of his or her office, grade, rank or rating for a period of time because of disability. There must be a causative relationship between the less than adequate duty performance and the unfitting medical condition or conditions.

(b) An acute, grave illness or injury or other significant deterioration of the Soldier’s physical condition occurred immediately prior to, or coincident with processing for separation or retirement for reasons other than physical disability and which rendered the Soldier unfit for further duty.

(3) A Soldier previously found unfit but approved for continuation on active duty (COAD) is evaluated according to chapter 6.

3–3. Conditions existing before active military service

a.  According to accepted medical principles, certain abnormalities and residual conditions exist that, when discovered, lead to the conclusion that they must have existed or have started before the individual entered the military service.

(1) Examples of these conditions are as follows:

(a) Scars.

(b) Fibrosis of the lungs.

(c) Atrophy following disease of the central or peripheral nervous system.

(d) Healed fractures.

(e) Absent, displaced, or resected organs.

(f) Supernumerary parts.

(g) Congenital malformations and hereditary conditions.

(h) Similar conditions in which medical authorities are in such consistent and universal agreement as to their cause

and time of origin that no additional confirmation is needed to support the conclusion that they existed prior to military service.

(2) Likewise, manifestation of lesions or symptoms of chronic disease from date of entry on active military service (or so close to that date of entry that the disease could not have started in so short a period) will be accepted as proof that the disease existed prior to entrance into active military service.

(3) Manifestations of communicable disease within less than the minimum incubation period after entry on active service will be accepted as proof of inception prior to military service.

a.  Standard in-service medical and surgical treatment reducing the effect of the disease or other conditions incurred prior to entry into military service does not constitute service aggravation unless the treatment was required to relieve disability that had been aggravated by military service.

b.  Unexpected adverse effects, over and above known hazards, directly attributable to treatment, anesthetic, or operation performed or administered for a disease or medical condition existing before entry on active duty, may be considered service aggravation.

c.  For separation guidance on non-service aggravated existed prior to service (EPTS) conditions when a Soldier requests waiver of referral to a PEB, see chapter 5.

3–4. Line of duty decisions

a.  Under the laws governing the Army PDES, Soldiers who sustain or aggravate physically unfitting disabilities must meet the following LD criteria to be eligible to receive retirement and severance pay benefits.

(1) The disability must have been incurred or aggravated while the Soldier was entitled to basic pay or as the proximate cause of performing active duty or inactive duty training (IDT).

(2) The disability must not have resulted from the Soldier’s intentional misconduct or willful neglect and must not have been incurred during a period of unauthorized absence.

b.  LD decisions are reached according to policies and procedures prescribed in AR 600–8–4. Copies of LD decision,DA Form 2173 (Statement of Medical Examination and Duty Status), or DD Form 261 (Report of Investigation—Line of Duty and Misconduct Status) must be included in the official records of the case. When a board or council has substantial evidence, however, showing that a prior decision may be incorrect for any reason, they must include such evidence in the case record and request U.S. Army Human Resources Command (AHRC–PDC–P), 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Fort Knox, KY 40122–5208 to review the LD determination before final disposition of disability processing at Headquarters, Department of the Army (HQDA) level (see para 4–19g).

c.  In certain categories of activities, the deputy commander, PEB president, or alternate president have the authority to make findings of “in line of duty, not due to own misconduct” when no LD investigation has been completed and specific criteria have been met (para 4–19g).

3–5. Use of the Department of Veterans Affairs schedule for Rating Disabilities

a.  The percentage assigned to a medical defect or condition is the disability rating. A rating is not assigned until the PEB determines the Soldier is physically unfit for duty. Under the provisions of 10 USC 61 these ratings are assigned from the Department of Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).

b.  Special guidance concerning Army use of the VASRD, as well as modifications and exceptions to it as prescribed by DODD 1332.18, are set forth in appendix B, of this regulation.

c.  The fact that a Soldier has a condition listed in the VASRD does not equate to a finding of physical unfitness. An unfitting, or ratable condition, is one which renders the Soldier unable to perform the duties of their office, grade, rank, or rating in such a way as to reasonably fulfill the purpose of their employment on active duty.

d.  There is no legal requirement in arriving at the rated degree of incapacity to rate a physical condition which is not in itself considered disqualifying for military service when a Soldier is found unfit because of another condition that is disqualifying. Only the unfitting conditions or defects and those which contribute to unfitness will be considered in arriving at the rated degree of incapacity warranting retirement or separation for disability. Any non-ratable defects or will be listed in item 8 of DA Form 199 (Physical Evaluation Board Proceedings), but will be annotated as non-ratable.

3–6. Length of hospitalization

Providing definitive medical care to active duty Soldiers requiring prolonged hospitalization who are unlikely to return to active duty is not within the DA mission. The time at which a Soldier should be processed for disability retirement or separation must be decided on an individual basis. The interest of both the Army and the Soldier must be considered. A Soldier may not be retained or separated solely to increase retirement or separation benefits. Soldiers who are medically unfit and not likely to return to duty should be processed for disability retirement or separation when it is decided that they have attained optimum hospital improvement.

3–7. Retaining Soldiers on active duty after scheduled nondisability retirement or discharge date

A Soldier whose normal scheduled date of nondisability retirement or separation occurs during the course of hospitalization or disability evaluation may, with his or her consent, be retained in the service until he or she has attained maximum hospital benefits and completion of disability evaluation if otherwise eligible for referral into the disability system.

a.  Officers and warrant officers on extended active duty may be retained on active duty according to the provision of AR 600–8–24, chapter 1.

b.  Enlisted Soldiers on extended active duty may be retained on active duty according to the provisions of AR 635–200, chapter 1.

c.  Soldiers in the reserve components (RC) (other than active guard reserve (AGR)) may be retained according to the provisions of AR 135–381.

d.  Reserve component Soldiers serving on AGR status will be retained on active duty as prescribed in AR 635–200.

3–8. Counseling provided to Soldier

a.  The appointed PEBLO at the MTF is responsible for counseling Soldiers (or the next-of-kin or legal guardian in appropriate cases) concerning their rights and privileges at each step in disability evaluation, beginning with the decision of the treating physician to refer the Soldier to a MEB and until final disposition is accomplished. For this purpose, the MTF commander will name an experienced, qualified officer, noncommissioned officer (NCO), or civilian employee as the PEBLO. At least one additional qualified officer, NCO, or civilian employee will be designated as alternate PEBLO. Only personnel whose duties will not conflict with their counseling responsibilities will be selected. The MTF commander will notify the recorder of the applicable PEB, of the name and telephone number of the PEBLO and alternate PEBLO. PEBLOs will use the Disability Counseling Guide (app C) to assist them in providing thorough counseling. Counseling will be documented (see para 4–20d).

Counseling will cover as a minimum, the following areas:

(1) Legal rights (including the sequence of and the nature of disability processing).

(2) Effects and recommendations of MEB and PEB findings.

(3) Estimated disability retired or severance pay (after receipt of PEB findings and recommendations).

(4) Probable grade upon retirement.

(5) Potential veteran’s benefits.

(6) Recourse to and preparation of rebuttals to PEB findings and recommendations.

(7) Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP).

(8) Post-retirement insurance programs and the Survivor Benefit Plan.

b.  Counseling by the appointed legal counsel is provided when the Soldier requests a formal

3–9. The temporary disability retired list

a.  The TDRL is used in the nature of a “pending list”. It provides a safeguard for the Government against permanently retiring a Soldier who can later fully recover, or nearly recover, from the disability causing him or her to be unfit. Conversely, the TDRL safeguards the Soldier from being permanently retired with a condition that may reasonably be expected to develop into a more serious permanent disability.

b.  Requirements for placement on the TDRL are the same as for permanent retirement. The Soldier must be unfit to perform the duties of his or her office, grade, rank, or rating at the time of evaluation. The disability must be rated at a minimum of 30 percent or the Soldier must have 20 years of service computed under Title 10, United States Code, Section 1208, (10 USC 1208). In addition, the condition must be determined to be temporary or unstable

c.  A Soldier who is determined to be physically fit will not be placed on the TDRL regardless of the severity of the physical defects or the fact that they might become unfitting were the Soldier to remain on active duty for a period of time.

3–10. Continuation on active duty or continuation on active Reserve status of Soldiers determined unfit due to physical disability

As set forth in chapter 6 of this regulation, a Soldier determined unfit due to physical disability by the PDES may be deferred from disability separation or retirement when it is determined that the Soldier can still serve effectively with proper assignment limitations. The SA, or their designee, may direct an involuntary COAD or continuation on active Reserve status (COAR) when the Soldier’s service obligation, or special skill and experience justify an involuntary continuation.

3–11. Limitation on appearance by Soldiers

A Soldier or his or her representative will not be permitted to appear before the informal PEB, USAPDA (during case review), the APDAB, or the ADRRB.

3–12. Findings and recommendations of agencies reviewing disability cases

Review and appeal activities are bound by the regulations under which adjudicative activities function. A rare and unusual case may occur to which current regulations do not apply. If so, refer the case through channels to the OSA with a recommendation for disposition.

3–13. Special rules applicable to general and medical corps officers

a.  General officers and medical corps (MC) officers will not be found to be unfit by reason of physical disability if they can be expected to perform satisfactorily in an assignment appropriate to their grade, qualifications, and

b.  General officers and MC officers who are processing for retirement by reason of age or length of service may not be retired for physical disability unless the initial unfitness determination of the SA is approved by the Secretary of Defense on the recommendation of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) (ASD (HA))

c.  General officers and MC officers not processing for retirement by reason of length of service at the time of their referral into the disability system, may not be retired or separated for physical disability until a recommendation therefore by the SA is approved by the ASD (HA).

d.  One copy of all retirement orders issued in the case of general officers retired because of physical disability will be submitted to ASD (HA).

3–14. Factors governing time of processing

The point in time for referral of a Soldier for disability separation or retirement is determined on an individual basis. Normally, Soldiers who are not likely to return to duty will be processed as soon as this probability is ascertained.

a.  Separation or retirement should normally occur within 20 days of the date of the final determination of unfitness by the SA. However, Soldiers are entitled to use accrued leave in excess of that which cannot be sold back.

b.  Soldiers having a prognosis of imminent death shall be evaluated and processed in a comparable manner and

procedural sequence to that of all other Soldiers. No procedures will be circumvented or omitted, to include LD determination in the interest of timely processing.

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