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levinj 08-23-2012 07:29

Bulging Disks and MEB

I'm a recently-commissioned 2LT, branched Infantry. I had the very bad luck, a month or so after commissioning (while I was waiting to class up into IBOLC), to get into a very bad car accident on the way to the gym. The severity of the damage wasn't known until later, but I began experiencing debilitating back-pain after a few miles on a run or a ruck.

Finally, it got to the point where my right leg would go tingly and numb, and I convinced a doctor something was really, really wrong. Before this, they insisted I didn't need an MRI and to continue physical therapy.

As it turns out, I have three bulging discs - none incredibly severe, but one touching my sciatic nerve on both sides even while I'm not doing physical activity. The Army decided that, instead of continuing treatment, to begin the MEB process on me. I was not offered an MMRB, and I was not notified that I was being moved onto a permanent profile.

This may be the wrong area for this, but I want to stay in the Army. I think that the officers and NCOs I've worked with would give me very positive reviews; I work hard in my current job. If any of the medics here have any advice or insight into how this process works, I'd really appreciate it. I'm at my wit's end here, and the medical and PEB personnel seem...less than interested in helping me out.

miclo18d 08-23-2012 08:35

I have two bulging disks but they never interfered with my performance (except in a few extreme situations), I was on jump status for 20 years and I had days when it was bad and days, sometimes weeks, when it was good. I never was 100%. When I went through selection I was fine during the events because the rucksack "splinted" the L4/L5 and I was fine. When it sucked was when I was lying in the bunk at night. I had sciatica associated with the nerve roots being affected. When I went to retire, I went to get the problem "fixed", I didn't rate for surgery and they don't really know (or care) about how much pain you are in. That being said I was directed to a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and he injected me twice over a 2 month period, sent me to PT, and I had an extremely good outcome. My back is pretty darn good even though I had to do some more PT 4 years later.

Now one of the factors in your diagnosis is where the bulges are and how it affects your performance. My bulges are L4/L5 and posterior. As I was saying above, I had problems but they never affected my performance except one time in Peru after we had to hand carry about 100 boxes of ammo from a barge to an ASP. I was laid up for about 48 hours. But I still got out there to work each day (even though I was bent over) as acting Team Sergeant to observe training and make sure the guys were getting what they needed. Lots of muscle relaxers and Motrin got me through the 3-6 days of an "episode".

I don't have much advice on fighting the MEB, but I know it can be done. A good friend of mine that was shot in the Kidney in A-Stan was medically retired (as we thought he wasn't going to make it) and he fought it, stayed in, and is now back on a HALO team. That being said, the Military is looking to downsize, dramatically! They don't need you and in their thinking, you will be taking the slot of someone that is completely healthy. Give those things some thought, before you make your decision to fight it or just take the disability.

levinj 08-23-2012 14:58


My discs are bulging bilaterally and posterior, and it's the L-3 through L-5. Like you, my absolute worst pain is when I try to sleep. Muscle relaxers help, but I absolutely refused any narcotic painkillers, which I sometimes think was a mistake.

We tried steroid injections, but I wasn't actually given the time necessary for those to take effect before I was told "class up or be MEB'd." So I classed up and had my first road march roughly a week after my injection. Unfortunately, it didn't go well for me.

I completely understand the Army's position. They're downsizing, they're getting rid of us left and right. What I resent is that, even if I can no longer be an Infantryman, which is very hard for me to accept, I can still do *some* job. Shoot, turn me into a mail-man and demote me to PVT. I don't care. I joined the Army to serve in whatever position the Army sees fit to slot me into.

Thanks for your input! I'm told I have about a year left before I even get an answer from the MEB, by which time I'll be a 1LT (this is ridiculous to me as well - even lieutenants who're failing PT tests or getting DUIs are still getting promoted). Please, if anyone has any experience with what happens after a NARSUM is sent off, I'd be very receptive. I have no idea what's happening, and the LT Mafia is failing me on gossip!

Eagle5US 08-23-2012 17:46


Step back and look at what you are asking the Military to do...

Keep someone who has a debilitating condition and try and pacify / treat that condition for the next 20 years.

It doesn't make good business sense. Now; let's look at your probable options:

PEBLO will initiate MEB proceedings on you and when you go / should you go before the MEB, you can get:
1. Retain in current job no profile
2. Retain in current job with profile code
(neither of these two are likely as you cannot do what is required of an infantryman)
3. Retain in service but reclass to a different job and a profile code
4. Removed from service (here you get a check)

Although you are motivated, you have a debilitating condition that the US Army does not want to / should not have to take care of free of charge for the next 20 years.
Even if we weren't downsizing - if after 6 months of profiling you are not significantly improved; it is grounds for an MEB. And you are correct - it is not something that you have to be asked about, nor is it something that you must consent to. It is an administrative review of your medical condition(s) to determine a fitness for duty.
The earlier you are in your career - the less chance you have of being retained. It is simple math when it comes to the potential cost of your care against what you can provide to the service.

Nothing personal - just business.

Good luck.

miclo18d 08-24-2012 06:12


The earlier you are in your career - the less chance you have of being retained.
I'd have to agree. Perhaps a better metric is how much the Army has invested in your career. I know many a SF dude that are pretty jacked up. I know a few with fused vertebrae, many without, shoulders, knees, bullet wounds, heck I know a guy that has been shot in the head...twice!!! The difference is that they can make the ruck marches and still land that parachute and walk (hobble) away.

Eagle edit

...I'm retired now, I go by David now ;)

... and yes, Good Luck, I hope it works out for you.

levinj 08-24-2012 08:28

Roger, gentlemen. Thank you both for the perspective, and I'll drive on.

afchic 08-24-2012 09:34

I am not sure how the MEB process works for Army vs Air Force but here has been my experience.

I was MEB'd 3 years ago for the same issue. Mine is L4/L5 and L5/S1. Luckily since I was not a candidate for surgery my MEB was blasted thorugh in about 2 weeks, and I was retained on a C1 profile. I have gone through RILOs for the past 2 years, with no problems.

I know the fact that I had 16 years when it happened, helped alot.

Keep a stiff upper lip. The process can be very stressful, but what is going to be is going to be.

Best wishes that you are retained.

You need to keep a good outlook on your future health. I just had my 6th steriod injection yesterday. The next step we are looking at is cauterizing the nerves. Anything to keep me from having surgery. Talk to your docs about whatyou can expect in the future, and what your long term options are, regardless of whether you are retained or not.

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