Federal Government Will Expand Health Benefits For Veterans Suffering From Brain Injuries

The New York Times reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs today will propose new rules and regulations aimed at expanding health care benefits for current and former service members suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

The new regulations will include certain forms of “Parkinsonism, unprovoked seizures, certain dementias, depression, and hormone deficiency diseases related to the hypothalamus, pituitary or adrenal glands” as medical conditions eligible for benefits to any veteran with a brain injury — without burdening veterans to prove that their condition is directly caused by military service:

Since 2000, more than 250,000 service members — some still on active duty — have received diagnoses of traumatic brain injury, or T.B.I., according to the Defense Department. Though T.B.I. is commonly viewed as resulting from blast exposure, the vast majority of those injuries were diagnosed in nondeployed troops who were involved in vehicle crashes, training accidents or sports injuries.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says that a much smaller number of veterans — about 51,000 — are currently receiving benefits for service-connected traumatic brain injuries. However the department acknowledges that thousands more troops with T.B.I. may be eligible for the expanded benefits.

Veterans of prior wars will also be eligible for the benefits, if they can demonstrate that a traumatic brain injury was connected to their military service.

Under current rules, a veteran with one of the five illnesses has to provide medical evidence that the disease is the result of military service in order to receive veterans’ benefits.

The new rule would potentially speed up and simplify their cases, provided a veteran could first demonstrate a service-connected traumatic brain injury. Once that is established, the department will accept without further evidence that any of those five diseases was caused by the T.B.I., making the veteran eligible for additional compensation and health care for that particular disease.

While the expanded benefits will give America’s veterans some much-needed peace of mind, the rules will still place certain limitations related to the severity of the diseases being treated. And service members face many physical and mental health risks not necessarily associated with a traumatic brain injury. The number of suicides in the armed forces is on the rise, and retired military leaders have called on Congress to address the epidemic.