Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Soto accompanies litter-bearers as they load an injured Marine into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a medical evacuation on Jan. 30, 2012, in Garmsir, in Afghanistan's Helmand province. (Marine Corps)
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The Veterans Affairs Department has added five medical conditions to a list of illnesses that, if they are diagnosed in a patient with a service-connected brain injury, automatically are presumed to be service-connected as well.
The new regulation, which takes effect Jan. 15, adds Parkinson’s disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures or some diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands to the list of conditions that, when diagnosed secondary to a brain injury, also are presumed to be related to military service.
The change will make it easier for afflicted veterans to receive disability compensation from VA for the second condition.
“We decide veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Monday in a statement. “As scientific knowledge advances, VA will expand its programs to ensure veterans receive the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”
Service connection will depend in part on the severity of the traumatic brain injury and onset of the illness, which will be considered secondary to the brain injury, according to VA.
Officials said the change was made based on a 2008 Institute of Medicine report that noted “sufficient evidence of an association” between the diseases and moderate to severe brain injury, and in the case of depression, mild concussions.
More than 250,000 service members suffered a TBI from 2000 to 2012, with 194,000 classified as mild — a concussion. About 42,000 suffered moderate TBI, defined as a “confused or disoriented state that lasts more than 24 hours, but less than seven days”; this level of TBI can be seen in brain images.
Another 6,476 received a severe TBI or a penetrating head wound.
Paul Sullivan, a 1991 Persian Gulf War veteran and spokesman for the law firm Bergmann & Moore, which handles disability claims, earlier this year described the then-proposed rule as “good news for veterans.
“What this does is make it easier for VA to process the claim with one less evidentiary step. And it establishes a framework for considering other conditions secondary to TBI,” Sullivan said.