Friday, December 7, 2012


tlc institute
On this anniversary of the historic attack on Pearl Harbor, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is doing right by America's veterans by proposing long-awaited new rules on Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a medical condition that has affected the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans deployed since 9/11.

According to reports in the New York Times and other news outlets, the VA’s new rules establish Parkinsonism, unprovoked seizures, certain dementias, depression and hormone deficiency diseases related to the hypothalamus, pituitary or adrenal glands as eligible for the expanded benefits such as VA disability compensation and healthcare.

This is a positive development for veterans coping with brain-related injuries, which are referred to as one of the "invisible wounds" of war and which often go undiagnosed and untreated. The new rules apply to all veterans, including both deployed and non-deployed, and veterans of prior wars, as well.

It may surprise some to learn that while TBI is commonly viewed as resulting from blast exposure, the vast majority of those injuries have in fact been diagnosed in non-deployed troops who were involved in vehicle crashes, training accidents or sports injuries.

Paul Sullivan, a highly respected veterans advocate who works at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm than handles veteran compensation claims, says, "Veterans should be pleased with the new regulations." 

But Sullivan notes that the VA must complement these new regulations with increased training and staffing to ensure that the department can handle the wave of new claims likely to result from the new policy.

The new rules are indeed expected to create a substantial number of new claims at the VA, which is already contending with a massive backlog of disability claims, more than 900,000. 

Since 2000, more than 250,000 service members - some still on active duty - have received TBI diagnoses, according to the Defense Department. 

The VA says that a smaller number of veterans - about 51,000 - are currently receiving benefits for service-connected traumatic brain injuries. 

However, the department acknowledges that thousands more troops with TBI may be eligible for these expanded benefits. 

Under current rules, a veteran with one of the five illnesses I listed above has to provide medical evidence that the disease is the result of military service in order to receive veterans’ benefits. 

According to an analysis by Bergmann & Moore on the firm’s website, the new rule would potentially speed up and simplify their cases if a veteran can demonstrate a service-connected traumatic brain injury.

Once that is established, the department will accept without further evidence that any of those five diseases was caused by the TBI, making the veteran eligible for additional compensation and health care for that particular disease.

The VA said in a statement that it based its policy on a 2008 Institute of Medicine study, which concluded that evidence linking mild T.B.I. to the diseases was only “limited or suggestive.”

“We must always decide veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available,” Eric Shinseki, secretary of VA, said in the press release. “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence that ensure they receive benefits earned through their service to the country.”

According to Bergmann & Moore, the VA’s much-anticipated new rules are based on a 2008 report by the Institute of Medicine about the impact of TBI. The report was ordered under the framework of the “Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998,” a law expanding research, healthcare, and disability benefits for Gulf War veterans.

Veterans and surviving families with questions about these new rules should contact a veteran service organization about filing a disability claim. 


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