VA Compensation for Traumatic Brain Injuries
Brain injuries can range from mild to severe. Concussions are the most frequent type of TBI. Concussions occur from a mild blow to the head, either with or without loss of consciousness and can lead to temporary cognitive symptoms. Severe brain injuries, on the other hand, stem from serious incidents like a gunshot wound or skull fracture. “Closed skull injuries” where no injuries are obvious, can be deceptively dangerous and just as severe as the injuries involving penetrating wounds.
A brain injury’s severity mostly depends upon the length of time the veteran was unconscious following the incident. Additionally, the veteran’s ability to answer questions and shortly after the incident is often indicative of the seriousness of their injury. The length of any memory loss suffered by the veteran can also be an indicator of how much damage was caused by the injury.
TBI and PTSD
Veterans with a TBI can also be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is one of the most common disorders among combat veterans. PTSD occurs when a person experiences a highly stressful, traumatic event. The effect of the event can persist in a veteran’s mind for years afterward, causing tension, depression, self-destructive behaviors, and social isolation.
For many veterans, TBI and PTSD go together. A wound or blow to the head in combat can cause both TBI and PTSD symptoms. Though PTSD is a psychological disorder and TBI is neurological, the combination of both can make life exceedingly difficult for veterans. For example, regulating emotions becomes hard. When the area of the brain that controls emotions is damaged, the veteran can experience both dramatic mood swings and emotional detachment. For their family and friends, these conflicting emotional states can be difficult to cope with.
There are resources for those veterans affected by PTSD and TBI. Veterans looking for guidance on filing a VA disability claim for PTSD should consider speaking to a Veterans Service Organization (VSO) like the Veterans of Foreign wars (VFW) or Disabled American Veterans (DAV) for insight and guidance into the claims process.
How Can Veterans Receive VA Disability Benefits for a Traumatic Brain Injury?
When a veteran wishes to receive VA disability compensation, he or she must demonstrate three things to the VA. First, the veteran must show he or she has been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Next, the veteran must provide results of a comprehensive physical and mental examination to demonstrate the full effects of the TBI. Then, most importantly, the veteran must prove his or her TBI is service-related.
The VA awards disability benefits based on the severity of a veteran’s medical condition. With TBI however, this gets arbitrary, as brain injuries manifest themselves in different ways with symptoms that may or may not be continuous. This causes the VA to evaluate the physical, emotional, and cognitive effects of the TBI.
Here are some symptoms the VA evaluates to determine the severity of a TBI:
- Neurobehavioral problems (e.g., irritability, restlessness)
- Bladder and bowel problems
- Memory impairment
- Cognitive problems (e.g., decreased attention, difficulty concentrating, difficulty with executive functions)
- Pain (particularly that which is severe in intensity and frequent in duration)
- Vision problems (e.g., partial or total blindness, blurred vision, double vision)
- Hearing problems (e.g., deafness, tinnitus)
Veterans can use lay testimony and medical records demonstrate his or her TBI and its severity. Examples of useful medical records include:
- Results of MRIs and PET scans.
- Documentation of altered mental state.
- Documentation of prolonged loss of consciousness.
- Documentation of memory loss.
- Documentation of Glasgow Coma Scale score (test measuring the level of consciousness following a brain injury).
New VA Regulations Regarding TBI
The VA has been criticized for not recognizing the severity of TBI and its ability to facilitate other serious conditions. The VA responded to this criticism in 2013 by proposing new regulations expanding benefits for veterans with TBI who develop certain conditions. The regulations became binding in January 2014.
These new regulations allow the presumption of service-connection for five diseases if they are precipitated by a service-connected TBI. If a veteran suffered a TBI in the course of his or her service, the VA must grant service connection to the following:
- Seizures: Presumed to be service-connected if diagnosed following moderate or severe service-connected TBI and doctors have established no other cause.
- Parkinson’s disease: Presumed to be service-connected if diagnosed following moderate or severe service-connected TBI.
- Dementia: Presumed to be service-connected if diagnosed within 15 years of moderate or severe service-connected TBI.
- Depression: Presumed to be service-connected if diagnosed within three years of moderate or severe service-connected TBI or within one year of mild TBI.
- Hormone Deficiency: Presumed to be service-connected if diagnosed within one year of moderate or severe service-connected TBI.
If you filed a TBI claim and the VA denied it, contact us for help with the appeals process. We provide free consultations to veterans nationwide.