By Douglas G. Jackson, Esq.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI as it is often called, is becoming more and more common, especially among veterans. There are several reasons for this. One of the biggest reasons is that military equipment, such as helmets, have significantly improved. This means, for example, that when a soldier is in the blast radius of an improvised explosive device, or IED, the soldier has a greater chance of surviving. However, this also means that this soldier will suffer from the aftermath, which may include TBI.
TBI can cause various symptoms, depending on the person, such as:
- Difficulty speaking or slurring words
- Tingling or numbness of the arms and legs
- Difficulty walking or loss of coordination
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Blurry vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Change in mood, such as irritability, depression, or other symptoms
- Difficulty with concentration
- Difficulty with memory
- Sensitive to light and sound
- Change in sleep habits or difficulty waking up
A veteran who had a traumatic brain injury in service may be entitled to disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Unfortunately, if the veteran only files a claim for TBI, the VA may limit its decision to one singular low rating for TBI. Luckily, there is a way for a veteran to get a much higher overall rating due to TBI and the symptoms it causes. This can be done by filing a claim for every symptom caused by TBI.
When the veteran files a claim for every TBI symptom he or she experiences and indicates to the VA that each symptom is “secondary to TBI,” the veteran may receive a much higher rating. That is because many of these symptoms are rated separately from TBI. For example, if a veteran who suffers from TBI, headaches, and numbness in the right arm files only a claim for TBI, he or she might get a single a rating of 10 percent for TBI. If this same veteran were to file a claim for TBI and headaches and numbness of the arm all secondary to TBI, the VA may award 10 percent for TBI, 30 percent for headaches, and 20 percent for numbness of the right arm. This is much better than a mere 10 percent TBI rating because the veteran did not make the VA aware of the other symptoms.
Even if the veteran has already filed a claim for TBI but the VA did not give the veteran all the other ratings that are deserved for conditions secondary to TBI, that veteran may still file new claims. To do this, the veteran should file each unrated symptom as a new claim and state that each TBI symptom is “secondary to TBI.” The VA will then develop each of these and may send the veteran to new compensation and pension examinations, even if the veteran already has a rating for TBI. The VA will then make a decision, and it will give a rating for each symptom the VA believes is a symptom of TBI.
When veterans get a rating for each of their symptoms, the battle might not yet be won. Many times, the VA still underrates conditions. It is always a good idea for a veteran to get a second opinion from an accredited attorney, an accredited agent or a veteran’s service officer, who can better inform the veteran if the rating is consistent with the level of symptoms experienced. If this is done less than one year after the rating decision is issued, the veteran may be able to appeal the decision to maximize the backpay.
Although TBI is becoming more common in veterans, the VA still decides many cases incorrectly. Filing a claim that clearly states that every TBI symptom a veteran experiences is “secondary to TBI” is a good way to maximize the chances of obtaining a high rating at the initial decision. However, many times, a veteran will still need to appeal the decision to get the rating that is actually warranted by the symptoms the veteran is experiencing.