The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy

The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy: January 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an extremely complicated condition since the brain controls every function in the body. Depending on what part of the brain is injured and how severely, any part of the body could be affected in any number of ways.  This means that symptoms can range from blurry vision to low blood pressure to numbness in the hands to depression.

TBI symptoms are commonly categorized into three different types: Cognitive, Physical, and Emotional and Behavioral.  

Cognitive symptoms deal with the brain’s ability to think properly by interfering with its ability to process information, make decisions, and reason logically. Cognitive symptoms can include memory loss, decreased problem solving, learning difficulties, disorientation, confusion, and the inability to understand or communicate, etc.

Physical symptoms deal with the body’s ability to function. Physical symptoms are caused by either damage to the nerves or damage to the brain that interferes with its ability to communicate with the nerves. Depending on which nerves are affected, physical symptoms could affect any part of the body, from the heart to the toes. Physical symptoms can include the inability of the organs to properly function with the many symptoms that causes (like low blood pressure, anemia, urinary incontinence, etc.), numbness, paralysis, loss of coordination, etc.

Emotional and behavioral symptoms are psychological disorders like PTSD, depression, etc. Symptoms can include anger, anxiety, nightmares, trouble sleeping, worry, fear, etc.

The symptoms of TBI can remain individual symptoms or can develop into full-blown conditions themselves. For example, TBI can cause diagnosable conditions like PTSD, neurocognitive disorders like dementia, or even something like hyperthyroid heart disease (a condition of the heart that occurs when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone).

Because of the wide extent of conditions that can be caused by TBI, the VA requires satisfactory proof that a traumatic brain injury did occur and that a condition/symptom was indeed caused by the TBI in order for it to be given a VA Disability Rating.

While a TBI must be diagnosed and documented right when it first occurs, it doesn’t necessarily need to have been called “TBI”. Traumatic brain injury can include anything from a concussion to a shrapnel wound to the skull. As long as there is evidence in the military medical record of a brain injury that was traumatic (caused by something hitting the head), then it qualifies as TBI.

The VA cannot diagnose TBI after the fact. If there is no evidence of TBI in the military medical record, then the VA will not rate it. A vet can’t just walk in and claim to have been hit in the head while deployed. It must have been properly recorded, just like with any other medical condition, to be considered service-connected.

Some symptoms of TBI may not develop until months or even years after the original incident. In order for the VA to rate symptoms that develop after the vet leaves the military, there must be proof that they were indeed caused by the TBI that occurred while in the military. For example, it isn’t possible for a mild concussion to cause heart disease three years later since a mild TBI rarely has symptoms lasting more than a day or so. There must be clear medical connections between the severity of the TBI and the condition.

As long as the vet has proof of a TBI occurring during his military service, there are a few conditions that the VA will automatically consider caused by TBI if they develop after the vet leaves the military. These can be found on our Rating Secondary Conditions Caused by TBI page. For all other conditions/symptoms, there must be clear medical evidence that they were caused by the TBI in order to be rated.

For complete information on rating TBI for Military Disability, see our Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) page.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What’s in a name? - What You Call a Condition Could Mean the Difference Between Having a VA Claim Accepted or Denied

I want to discuss something that is a fairly common factor in claims that are denied by the VA: the condition’s name.

Believe it or not, what you call a condition on your VA Disability Claim plays a very significant role in whether or not the VA will give it a VA Disability Rating.

When deciding what to call your conditions on your claim, it’s important to remember that each condition must be service-connected in order for it to qualify for VA Disability.  This basically means that it was either diagnosed while in the military or can be directly tied to your time in the military.

If you try to submit a claim for something that has no clear ties to your military career, the VA will deny your claim. They have every right to. VA Disability is only meant to help compensate for conditions that were directly caused by military service.

Now if you submit a claim for a condition you believe was caused by the military, but there is no proof, it will still be denied. The VA isn’t going to find the proof for you. You have to prove that every condition is service-connected. This can sometimes be a bit frustrating, but one definite solution that very few vets think of is renaming the condition you are applying for. 

This does NOT mean applying for a condition you do not have or trying to lie about your situation. Just don’t get caught up on a single name for your condition, especially if you just think it sounds more serious or just plain cooler. Sometimes something more simple will get you much farther.

I think the best way to explain what I mean is with the following example.

We were recently contacted by a veteran whose claim had been denied by the VA for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a pretty serious respiratory condition.

While in the military, he was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and a host of other more minor respiratory conditions. It wasn’t until after he left the military that he was officially diagnosed with COPD. Chronic bronchitis and many of the other respiratory conditions he had in the military are common symptoms of COPD, so the vet and his physicians assumed that his COPD was just a development of his service-connected respiratory conditions, and so would definitely be ratable.

Unfortunately not. It may seem logical, and many physicians might claim that it is connected, but technically, while chronic bronchitis is a symptom of COPD, it can be argued that you can have chronic bronchitis without having COPD. Many will argue it’s the same, but chronic bronchitis does not automatically equal COPD. These are the type of technicalities the VA can and will use to refuse claims.

So what can the vet do? Is he doomed to never get the compensation he feels he deserves, and in this case probably does? This is where a knowledge of the VASRD can come in REALLY handy and why we’ve made all this information available to everyone on our website,

So, okay, claiming COPD doesn’t work since it isn’t officially service-connected. Let’s explore the other options for rating conditions of the Respiratory System. COPD is an Obstructive Lung Disease, so if we look under this category, we find that all obstructive lung diseases are rated on the Respiratory Rating System. COPD is rated under code 6604, but we’ll notice as we look at this section that Chronic Bronchitis is also listed here under code 6600.

So what do we know?
  • All conditions in this section are rated using the exact same rating criteria: the Respiratory Rating System.
  • Both COPD and Chronic Bronchitis are in this section.
  • Chronic Bronchitis was diagnosed while the vet was in the military.

What does this mean?

Chronic Bronchitis is service-connected, will definitely be rated by the VA, and will receive the exact same rating that COPD would have since it is rated using the same criteria. Thus, the easiest solution to the vet’s problem is to ignore the diagnosis of COPD altogether and instead submit a claim for chronic bronchitis.

COPD sounds cooler and is in essence a more mature form of chronic bronchitis, but in this case, chronic bronchitis will get the job done.

Don’t get hung up on a name.

Take the time before you submit a claim to fully research your conditions on our site. We’ve provided all the information you need to figure out the best way to prepare your claim to get you the maximum benefits you deserve. It will take a bit of effort at the beginning, but it will be time well spent.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Changes in Military Disability for 2015

All right, we are back from a great holiday and ready for the (hopefully) wonderful changes that will be coming to Military Disability in 2015.

First and foremost, Congress increased the rates given for VA Disability and Special Monthly Compensation by 1.7%. The increase is based on the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) that reflect the rate of inflation throughout the nation. This year’s rate is higher than last year’s 1.5% increase, but this is the third year in a row where the increase has been less than 2%. 

The increased rates went into effect December 1, 2014. The new amounts can be found on our VA Disability Chart and Special Monthly Compensation Rates pages. The increases are automatic, and you should have already seen them in your December checks. If not, contact your local VA office.

Another change that will be happening during 2015 is the rewriting of the VASRD that is to be released in stages throughout the year. The powers that be are currently rewriting the entire VASRD to 1.) update it to reflect more modern medical language, terminologies, and accepted practices and 2.) try to make it more accurate and fair. Hopefully that will indeed be the case.

The first of these rewrites was released in August 2014 and updated the Mental Disorders section of the VASRD. The remainder of the rewrites are expected to be released one section at a time throughout 2015.

It is impossible at this stage for us to say exactly when the rewrites will be completed and how they will change the VASRD. Each section could be handled completely differently, and until Congress releases the official version, it’s all just speculation. We will, however, make sure to get the information to you as soon as it is available.

May 2015 be a good year for us all, especially for our deserving disabled veterans.