Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has become more and more common in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. TBI is caused by trauma to head, most commonly associated with the use of roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and resulting blast forces. Automobile accidents, repeated hits to the head playing sports, and falls involving head trauma may also be causes.
The physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral effects of TBI are often accompanied by an acquired psychiatric disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. However, these symptoms are often overlooked, considered by the VA as part of a veteran’s TBI symptoms – not two or three different disabilities caused by in-service TBI. This means veterans service-connected for Traumatic Brain Injury may not receive adequate compensation for every disability related to their military service.
Connecting Traumatic Brain Injury to Military Service
The VA recently amended its secondary service connection regulations to recognize that TBI may cause additional, separately compensable, secondary disabilities. The VA now recognizes that Parkinson’s disease, unprovoked seizures, certain forms of dementia, depression, and diseases of hormone deficiency will be considered proximately due to TBI in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary. However, whether the VA will consider TBI to be the proximate cause of one of these depends on the severity of a veteran’s service-connected TBI. The VA characterizes TBI as mild, moderate, or severe. When determining the degree of a veteran’s TBI, the VA looks at his or her symptoms at the time of TBI and shortly thereafter. Factors affecting the characterization of Traumatic Brain Injury as mild, moderate, or severe are structural imaging of the brain, loss of consciousness, alteration of consciousness and/or mental state, post-traumatic amnesia, and the Glasgow Coma Scale.
The length of time between when the Traumatic Brain Injury occurred and when disabilities arose can affect whether the VA considers these additional disabilities secondary to service-connected TBI. For example, service connected TBI will be considered to be the proximate cause of a diagnosis of depression if it manifests within 3 years of a moderate or severe TBI or within 12 months of a mild TBI.
Evaluating Traumatic Brain Injury in the Military
The determination of the severity level of TBI is based on symptoms at the time of the in-service injury or shortly thereafter, rather than at the current level of functioning. This is an important distinction as the level of severity of the TBI may allow a veteran to be awarded secondary service connection for the above disabilities. Oftentimes, there is no record of a veteran’s in-service TBI; a veteran’s service medical records may only note a head injury. When a veteran’s TBI is evaluated for service connection or for secondary claims, it is important for him or her to describe to the VA examiner the event that caused the injury, any loss of consciousness and the duration of loss of consciousness, any alteration of the veteran’s mental state after the injury including confusion, and any amnesia or loss of memory of the event or difficulty recalling events following.
Secondary service connection for other disabilities caused by TBI requires an opinion from a qualified medical professional. Other helpful evidence includes statements from the veteran and his family, an opinion from a vocational expert on the effects on the veteran’s TBI and his work, and any medical records that contain diagnoses of mental and physical disorders that may be caused by TBI.
If you think you may have additional disabilities caused by your service-connected TBI or if you have been denied and need help with your appeal, please call (888) 883-2483 to speak with a member of our team or contact us online. Your consultation is free.