During service, many veterans have received a traumatic brain injury (TBI) without recognizing it. Some brain injuries are not apparent at the time but can have long lasting effects on veterans later on in life. These effects are compensable and veterans can be missing out on benefits they are entitled to by not reflecting on their experiences in service.
TBI can come from multiple sources. A common cause are blasts such as an IED or land mines. Veterans who experienced these in service do not necessarily have to have been thrown by the blast – the blast wave can also have this effect. Another common cause is motor vehicle accidents that happen while on active duty. These accidents can be service connected if on active duty and frequently lead to brain injuries that may be overlooked due to other injuries.
Many veterans also played sports during their time in service. Some of these sports, including tackle football, were played without wearing protective gear. It may not be apparent at the time that the injury was incurred but several veterans have found out later that they have a brain injury as a result of their time playing football or other sports during service. It should be apparent that the causes of brain injuries are varied and may not be readily apparent on first reflection of military service.
It is important to note that veterans do not have to be knocked out when they received the injury. Symptoms that may have been experienced at the time are being dazed, ringing in the ears, inability to hear, nausea, vomiting, or headache. These symptoms may not be apparent at the time that a brain injury occurred or it may be so long ago that it is difficult to remember.
Traumatic brain injuries can also have a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms later in life, many of which overlap other conditions such as PTSD. Some common long-range symptoms are headaches, aggression, irritability, sensitivity to light and sound, memory loss, depression, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and difficulty concentrating.
The VA likes to downplay TBI and attribute it to other conditions such as PTSD to avoid assigning a higher rating and permanent and total ratings. Conditions such as PTSD and headaches are noted by the VA to improve with time and require re-examinations every few years. However, TBI does not improve and many veterans who are granted service connection for TBI receive a permanent and total rating. As a result, veterans who claim TBI need to be prepared before going into a C & P examination to avoid having the examiner brush off their condition.
As mentioned in our post on how to prepare for C & P examinations one of the best tools is to review the Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) for Traumatic Brain Injury accessible through the VA’s website. It is helpful for veterans to go through the checklist and note which symptoms apply to them, for how long those symptoms have persisted, and how those symptoms affect their ability to function. While the VA encourages veterans to avoid bringing anything with them into examinations, veterans should bring in notes to avoid leaving out important details of symptoms they experience.
The VA has connected TBI to several diseases that are commonly experienced by veterans, such as Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, depression, and diseases of hormone deficiency from hypothalamo-pituitary changes – depending on when they developed after service. Veterans who are diagnosed with these conditions should consider whether a traumatic brain injury might be the source and consider pursuing service-connection through TBI.
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