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New Regulations for Veteran Compensation for Disabilities Linked to Traumatic Brain Injuries

The Department of Veterans Affairs approved a new rule that will create easier access to health care for veterans for five diseases and disabilities proximately caused by service-connected traumatic brain injuries. The new regulations were published on December 17, 2013 and can be found at 8 CFR §3.310(d).

According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, over 287,000 U.S. military members have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury since 2000. However, over 80% of these injuries are not deployment related. Currently, approximately 51,000 veterans are receiving compensation for Veterans Affairs for service-connected brain injuries. The amendment to 8 CFR §3.310(d) will enable more veterans to claim benefits for disabilities that can be linked to a service-connected brain injury rather than the service activity itself.

Previous Rule
The previous rule required a veteran who is asking for compensation or health care for certain TBI-related disabilities to prove that the disability itself, not merely the traumatic brain injury (TBI), resulted from service-connected activity.

The requirement that the veteran show the disability’s link to service could delay and even destroy a claim for compensation regarding a proximately caused disability. The veteran had to find extensive medical evidence linking the disability to the service activity. Since some of the disabilities may potentially manifest themselves several years after the TBI, it can be extremely difficult to show a causal link between the service-connected activity and the disability itself.

New Rule
Section 3.310(d) now recognizes five potentially residual diseases and disabilities as being caused or aggravated by TBI. If a veteran is able to establish solely that the TBI itself is a service-connected injury, that veteran may have access to an increase in benefits to treat the residual disabilities of the brain injury. These disabilities include the following:

(i) Parkinsonism, including Parkinson’s disease, following moderate or severe TBI;
(ii) Unprovoked seizures following moderate or severe TBI;
(iii) Dementias of the following types: presenile dementia of the Alzheimer type, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies, if manifest within 15 years following moderate or severe TBI;
(iv) Depression if manifest within 3 years of moderate or severe TBI, or within 12 months of mild TBI; or (v) Diseases of hormone deficiency that result from hypothalamo-pituitary changes if manifest within 12 months of moderate or severe TBI.

The new rule could potentially expedite the claims of veterans because any of these disabilities will be presumed to be a result of a brain injury without the need for further medical evidence linking the disability to the period of service. However, it must be noted that there are timing restrictions to the claims as well as severity restrictions that limit veterans’ claims mainly to moderate and severe TBI.

The new regulation approved by the VA shows a significant step in health care access for certain proximately caused disabilities of TBI. Veterans of the Iraq, Afghanistan, and other previous wars, as well as for future veterans and those injured during training and other service-connected activity have a new remedy for TBI related disabilities.

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