New Rule Eases Claim Requirements for Vets with Traumatic Brain Injury

A man at Joint Base Lewis-McChord uses a program for tablet computers and smart phones that is designed to help calm symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury in 2011. A man at Joint Base Lewis-McChord uses a program for tablet computers and smart phones that is designed to help calm symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury in 2011. Ted S. Warren/AP file photo

The Veterans Affairs Department is trying to make it easier for veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and certain other ailments connected to TBI to obtain more disability pay, according to a new regulation.

The change, which takes effect Jan. 17, 2014, eliminates the need for veterans suffering from TBI and any of five other specific illnesses to provide more evidence linking the second illness to the service-connected traumatic brain injury. The second diagnosed illness will be considered service-connected “absent clear evidence of the contrary” for the purposes of calculating disability payments. The new rule affects vets suffering from any of the following ailments: Parkinson’s disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures, or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.

A secondary condition is one that causes or aggravates a service-connected disability. “Eligibility for expanded benefits will depend upon the severity of the TBI and the time between the injury causing the TBI and the onset of the second illness,” VA said in a press release.

There is no specific time frame for filing claims associated with the onset of Parkinson’s or unprovoked seizures under the new rule. For vets suffering certain types of dementia, the disease must manifest within 15 years after moderate or severe TBI; depression, within three years of moderate or severe TBI, or within a year of mild TBI; and for hypothalamus and pituitary problems, within 12 months of moderate or severe TBI.

Vets still can file a claim to establish a link between the two diseases even if they don’t meet the time and severity thresholds.

VA decided to change the regulation after a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences that found sufficient evidence linking TBI to the five diseases.

The regulation officially will be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 17.

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