The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has proposed a new regulation to change its rules for traumatic brain injury disability cases.

The proposal, published in the Federal Register, will expand disability benefits to veterans from all wars with specific secondary illnesses resulting from moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI) suffered during military service.

Five Illnesses Recognized as Presumptive to Brain Trauma

Those illnesses, identified by the Institute of Medicine as secondarily caused from trauma to the brain, are Parkinsonism, unprovoked seizures, dementias, depression, or hormone deficiency diseases. 

Under the new rule, once a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury has been connected to military service, veterans with these secondary, presumptive illnesses will no longer need to provide medical evidence of service connection.  They will be eligible for disability benefits as long as their illnesses pass certain time restrictions after the trauma:

  • Dementias –within 15 years
  • Hormone deficiency diseases – within one year
  • Depression – within three years

The ruling will go into effect after a 60-day period for the public to make comments on the proposal.

New Claims Not Expected to Affect the Backlog

The VA is not expecting the new rules to cause a flood of new claims, as occurred in November 2010, when the VA expanded its list of Agent Orange presumptive health conditions. At that time, 230,000 Agent Orange claims were added to the VA backlog of disability claims. It took two years to process them all. 

This newest ruling affects a smaller group of veterans who are sick with presumptive illnesses that have manifested within a specific time frame after moderate to severe brain trauma.

According to the New York Times, the “vast majority of such [TBI] injuries, about 8 in 10, are classified as mild, with most of the rest moderate and a small number severe.”

More than 250,000 veterans have been treated for traumatic brain injury since 2000. Of those, approximately 194,000 were mild cases; 42,000 were moderate; 2,527 were severe; and 3,949 resulted from penetrating wounds to the head. (Army Times)

Even so, there is concern that the backlog will strain with new claims. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, who sits on the House of Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “While this announcement is a positive step forward, VA needs to be prepared for new claims, which could stress an already backlogged and overwhelmed claims process.”

The backlog may stand at 900,000 claims, but the VA continues its push to make good its promise to provide for veterans.

The ruling will simplify the disability approval process and allow for quicker delivery of disability benefits to this group of veterans.

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