Archive for January, 2014

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Five New Illnesses Linked to Traumatic Brain Injuries

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Effective January 16, 2014, VA has amended 38 C.F.R. § 3.310 to add five illnesses found to secondarily related to traumatic brain injuries.  A report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, entitled “Gulf War and Health, Volume 7: Long-Term Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury,” found sufficient evidence to link the moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries with the following five illnesses:  

  1. Parkinsonism, including Parkinson’s disease, following moderate or severe traumatic brain injury
  2. Unprovoked seizures, following moderate or severe traumatic brain injury
  3. Dementias of the following types: presenile dementia of the Alzheimer type, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies, if manifest within 15 years following moderate or severe traumatic brain injury
  4. Depression, if manifest within 3 years of moderate or severe traumatic brain injury, or within 12 months of mild traumatic brain injury
  5. Disease of hormone deficiency that results from hypothalamo-pituitary changes, if manifest within 12 months of moderate or severe traumatic brain injury. 

 What does this mean for veterans who have service connected traumatic brain injuries?

Veterans who have already been granted entitlement to service connection for a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury, have been diagnosed with one of the five conditions noted above and fall within the guidelines provided, may file claims requesting entitlement to service connection for these conditions.  Absent clear evidence to the contrary, VA must grant entitlement to service connection for these five conditions, if the veteran falls within the guidelines noted above.  The benefit to veterans is an elimination of the need for case-specific development, such as not  having to obtain additional medical evidence linking the conditions to the veteran’s service connected moderate or severe traumatic brain injury. 

Veterans with pending claims requesting entitlement to service connection for moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can also file claims for the above noted conditions; however, the rule only provides for service connection of these conditions if the veteran has been granted entitlement to service connection for moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries. 

Veterans who have been diagnosed with one of the five conditions noted above and have obtained service connection or are seeking service connection for a traumatic brain injury, but do not fall within the guidelines established by the rule, may still request entitlement to service connection for these conditions.  The final rule specifically states that “any claim that is not within the scope of this rule will be developed and decided under generally applicable procedures based on the evidence relating to that claim.”  Thus, veterans will likely need medical evidence specifically linking the condition to their service connected traumatic brain injury. 

To see the final rule in its entirety, as well as commentary, please click on the link below :

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=VA-2012-VBA-0029-0212

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New Conditions in “Veterans and Agent Orange”

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

As many veterans are aware, there are a special set of regulations that provide for “presumptive service connection” for certain conditions if a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange.  This list is important because if a veteran does develop one of the listed condition, even 40 or 50 years after service, and they served on land in Vietnam during the war, service connection is very likely to be automatically granted.  The list is updated periodically based upon the latest scientific studies; in recent years, conditions have been added including ischemic heart disease and Type II Diabetes.  The addition of these diseases and others to the list have benefited thousands of veterans who are now service-connected and receiving VA benefits. 

As mentioned, VA adds new conditions to the list every few years based on the latest research.  Congress has mandated that the National Academy of Sciences report every two years on this research and that the report assess how likely it is that other diseases should be added to the list.  The latest report, called Veterans and Agent Orange, Update 2012 was just released in December (despite the 2012 date, this report did not come out until late 2013).  The biggest news from the report is a finding that there is “limited and suggestive evidence” that strokes are related to exposure to Agent Orange.  Similar findings about Parkinson’s Disease led to that condition being added to the presumptive list several years ago.  The report does not find that the latest research supports there being a link between any other new condition and Agent Orange.  For example, the report finds that there is still insufficient evidence to currently show a link between Agent Orange and the development of certain leukemias, such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS).

Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA will now have to take the information from the study and can propose rules adding conditions, such as stroke, to the list of presumptive diseases.  The National Academy’s report is available to read on line or download for free: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18395

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