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VA seeks to expand TBI benefits

SUN Columnist

The Department of Veterans Affairs is publishing a proposed regulation in the Federal Register that would change its rules to add five diagnosable illnesses which are secondary to service-connected Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

“We must always decide veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available, and we will,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said.  “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence that ensure they receive benefits earned through their service to the country.”

VA proposes to add a new subsection to its adjudication regulation by revising 38 CFR 3.310 to state that if a veteran who has a service-connected TBI also has one of the five illnesses, then the illness will be considered service connected as secondary to the TBI.

Service connection under the proposed rule depends in part upon the severity of the TBI (mild, moderate or severe) and the period of time between the injury and onset of the secondary illness.  However, the proposed rule also clarifies that it does not preclude a Veteran from establishing direct service connection even if those time and severity standards are not met.  It also defines the terms mild, moderate and severe consistent with Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 60 days.  A final regulation will be published after consideration of all comments received.

VA’s decision is based on a report by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM), “Gulf War and Health, Volume 7: Long-Term Consequences of TBI.”  In its report, the IOM’s Committee on Gulf War and Health concluded that “sufficient evidence of a causal relationship” — the IOM’s highest evidentiary standard — existed between moderate or severe levels of TBI and diagnosed unprovoked seizures.

The IOM found “sufficient evidence of an association” between moderate or severe levels of TBI and Parkinsonism; dementias (which VA understands to include presenile dementia of the Alzheimer type and post-traumatic dementia); depression (which also was associated with mild TBI); and diseases of hormone deficiency that may result from hypothalamo-pituitary changes.

Specific information about the Defense and Veteran Brain Injury Center is available at www.dvbic.org/.  Information about Gulf War and VA’s services and programs are available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/hazardous_exposures.asp.

Trust Fund

The Trust Fund Grant has directed a change of rules. All requests for travel/lodging reimbursement must have the following: Printed copy of appointment, copy of receipt for gas payment and/or receipt of lodging payment. Payment from Trust Fund will be to the amount on receipts: No receipt-no payment.

Ensure you apply for Travel through VAMC Albuquerque, whenever possible.

If a veteran is eligible for VA Travel payments, no reimbursements are authorized through the Trust Fund Grant.

Benefits

For information on VA benefits, call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office, located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center.

The office number is 264-4013, fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590, and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll, and for filing in the Archuleta County VSO office.

Meetings

The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month, 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa Street.

Veterans for Veterans: every Tuesday, 10 a.m., Quality Inn.

Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: every other Monday, 6 p.m., St. Patrick’s Episcopal Parish Hall, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. Contact Charlotte, 731-1025.

Point Man Ministry (veterans): every Thursday, 9 a.m., Crossroad Church, 1044 Park Ave.

Contacts

Durango VA Outpatient Clinic: 247-2214.

Farmington VA Center: (505) 327-9684.

The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to veterans in crisis, as well as their family and friends 24/7, 365 days a year. Call (800) 273-8255, chat online, or text 838255.

This story was posted on December 13, 2012.