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VA revamps disability ratings for brain trauma.

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Some veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) related to their military service could have their disability ratings increased under new regulations adopted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The changes are in line with recommendations the DAV provided the Veterans Benefits Administration, putting both clinical and unprovable symptoms in play.

"DAV is glad to see that the VA took our comments seriously and modified many of the proposed regulations accordingly," said National Service Director Randy Reese. "In addition, VBA will provide outreach to ensure that all affected veterans are informed of the new criteria and the availability of rerating under the new criteria."

The changes could potentially quadruple compensation for veterans with brain injuries, affecting both those already with disability ratings and those diagnosed with a TBI in the future.

TBI, also called acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. The effects of roadside and vehicle-borne explosions, as well as close-quarters combat, have left a staggering number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with varying forms of TBI.

Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. They can be debilitating on varying degrees, including blurred vision, insomnia, chronic headaches, irritability, anxiety and mild to severe memory loss. The new regulations will allow rating officials to take these symptoms into account when determining the level of disability.

The old regulation, which dated back to 1961, did not allow for compensation of such un-provable symptom. The changes will raise a veteran" already being compensated for TBI from 10 percent to 40 percent.

"The VA's acknowledgement and promulgation of specific TBI regulations is a great example of how the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities continues to evolve based on modern warfare, medical advances and experience of both the Veterans Health Administration and VBA," Reese said.

"As we stated in our comments," Reese continued, "the DAV believes that the medical professionals examining veterans will need training instruction and examination templates in order to provide complete and accurate evaluations. Plus, proper preparation and training of scheduling clerks, medical examiners and adjudication staff will be critical. The importance of adequate time and resources cannot be stressed enough, and VA should ensure that they are provided as required."

The changes are expected to cost about $124 million through 2017 in increased disability compensation, presuming the number of veterans suffering from TBI rises as expected in the coming years to 5,100 for 2017 from about 800 new cases a year now.

Veterans with a VA service-connected disability rating or looking for information on acquiring one, should contact your local National Service Officer immediately. Log onto www. dav.org to find the closest DAV Service Office.

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Author:Chenelly, Joseph R.
Publication:DAV Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:490
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