Posted on December 7, 2012 · Posted in Brain Injury

The Department of Veterans Affairs is apparently actually taking a step to secure more benefits for military members who have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The New York Times reported Friday that the VA is proposing regulations that will make it easier for veterans to get treatment and compensation for conditions related to TBI. In this proposed expansion of benefits, seizures, some dementias, Parkinsonism, depression “and hormone deficiency diseases related to the hypothalamus, pituitary or adrenal glands” will be eligible for benefits, according to The Times.

This proposal  must undergo a 60-day public comment period, and The Times says if it is approved it “could open the door to tens of thousands of veterans filing claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration,” which is already backlogged with claims.

TBI has been called “the signature wound” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with more than 250,000 diagnosed with it since 2000. Right now only about 51,000 veterans are getting benefits for TBI, The Times reported, a number that would jump if the rules are expanded.

Right now if a vet has one of the five ailments I cited earlier, he or she has to supply medical evidence that the disease was caused by their service for them to get benefits, according to The Times. Under the proposed expanded regulations, a vet would have to offer proof that they were diagnosed with moderate to severe TBI related to their service, the VA would accept that the five diseases were caused by their brain injury, The Times reported.

Unfortunately, most TBI cases are categorized as mild.

The Department  of Veterans Affairs put out a press release Friday on is plans to expand benefits.

Here it is:

Proposes Adding 5 Diagnosable Illnesses Secondary to Service-Connected TBI

WASHINGTON– The Department of Veterans Affairs is publishing a proposed regulation in the Federal Register that would change its rules to add five diagnosable illnesses which are secondary to service-connected Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

“We must always decide Veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available, and we will,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said.  “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence that ensure they receive benefits earned through their service to the country.”

VA proposes to add a new subsection to its adjudication regulation by revising 38 CFR 3.310 to state that if a Veteran who has a service-connected TBI also has one of the five  illnesses, then the illness will be considered service connected as secondary to the TBI.

Service connection under the proposed rule depends in part upon the severity of the TBI (mild, moderate, or severe) and the period of time between the injury and onset of the secondary illness.  However, the proposed rule also clarifies that it does not preclude a Veteran from establishing direct service connection even if those time and severity standards are not met.  It also defines the terms mild, moderate, and severe, consistent with Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 60 days.  A final regulation will be published after consideration of all comments received.

VA’s decision is based on a report by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM), “Gulf War and Health, Volume 7: Long-Term Consequences of TBI.”  In its report, the IOM’s Committee on Gulf War and Health concluded that “sufficient evidence of a causal relationship” – the IOM’s highest evidentiary standard – existed between moderate or severe levels of TBI and diagnosed unprovoked seizures.

The IOM found “sufficient evidence of an association” between moderate or severe levels of TBI and Parkinsonism; dementias (which VA understands to include presenile dementia of the Alzheimer type and post-traumatic dementia); depression (which also was associated with mild TBI); and diseases of hormone deficiency that may result from hypothalamo-pituitary changes.


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447