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Old 09-25-2008, 05:15 PM   #1
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TBI change has increase....

VA change to increase compensation for TBI




By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 25, 2008 6:23:36 EDT

In the first of what could become many revisions in its disability ratings, the Veterans Affairs Department announced Tuesday that it is changing how it evaluates traumatic brain injuries, a move that could increase disability compensation for thousands of veterans who have been injured by roadside bombs or other explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The changes, which could take effect within 30 days, apply only to new disability claims. But in some cases, veterans already given a disability rating could ask to be reevaluated. Any increase in benefits resulting from the change would not be retroactive for those already rated, VA officials said.
VA officials pledged that no one’s disability rating — which determines their level of compensation — would be reduced as a result of the change.
The change, which has been in the works since January, is aimed at blast injuries from roadside bombs — a common injury for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, VA officials said in a statement. About 6,000 veterans already have been rated by VA as having mild to severe brain injuries resulting from being near such explosions.
The new regulation describes traumatic brain injury, commonly called TBI, as an injury that has immediate effects, such as loss of consciousness, amnesia, and other neurological symptoms. The problems could be temporary, but also may cause prolonged effects such as physical or mental impairment or emotional and behavior problems.
A disability rating would be determined by evaluating physical, emotional and cognitive behavior, with ratings based on the cumulative result of the evaluations. Physical problems could include pain, hearing loss and speech problems. Cognitive behavior would include decision making, judgment and social interaction.
TBI has been difficult to diagnose because 90 percent of cases do not involve visible head wounds, and service members often report only mild problems.
“Difficulty after TBI may include headache, sleep difficulties, decreased memory and attention, slower thinking, irritability, and depression,” VA officials said in a statement.
In addition to the TBI regulations, VA officials also announced an interim policy that considers amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, to be a service-connected disability, and a final rule on evaluating scars caused by service-connected burns.
VA Secretary James Peake had announced in August that the rules would be changed. In a statement issued Tuesday, Peake said the presumption of service-connection for ALS makes sense because it is “a disease that progresses rapidly once it is diagnosed.”
“There simply isn’t time to develop the evidence needed to support compensation claims before many veterans become seriously ill,” Peake said. “My decision will make those claims much easier to process, and for them and their families to receive the compensation they have earned through their service to our nation.”
VA officials said the ALS policy will apply to all claims received beginning Tuesday and all claims pending before VA, including those being appealed.
The burn rating rules, which are final, involve how VA evaluates multiple scars. They also would apply to new claims.
The three separate rule changes are included in the Sept. 23 Federal Register, where legal notices are provided about regulatory change.
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