A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused by an incident that results in a bump, blow, jolt, or penetrating head wound. TBIs vary in severity, but it’s not uncommon for veterans who have been injured in combat to find that their condition makes it difficult to work or resume day-to-day activities. Applying for VA disability benefits helps ensure that a veteran with a TBI has access to the resources they need to make the transition back to civilian life.
Veterans with a TBI related to their military service are entitled to VA disability benefits providing cash compensation and access to medical care. In some cases, they may also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.
How TBIs Are Rated by the VA
The VA classifies TBI in three degrees: mild, moderate, or severe. Structural imaging of the brain, length of loss of consciousness, the presence of post-traumatic amnesia, and scores on the Glasgow Coma Scale are some of the factors used to aid in this classification.
The VA awards disability ratings as percentages from 0% to 100% in 10% increments. For a TBI, the possible ratings are 0%, 10%, 40%, 70%, and 100%. Although the severity of TBI symptoms can change over time, a veteran will be evaluated based on their cognitive function, behavioral function, and physical function at the time their claim is filed.
In some cases, a veteran who would otherwise be entitled to a 100% rating might receive what’s known as SMC(t). This is a level of Special Monthly Compensation for veterans with severe TBI. It is granted in place of the monthly VA disability rating but provides enhanced benefits to pay for the additional expenses incurred from a severe brain injury. There are three criteria that must be met to qualify:
- The disabled veteran needs regular aid and attendance (A&A) for the residual effects of their TBI. (This means, they need help with basic tasks of daily living such as dressing, feeding, and bathing.)
- They are not eligible for a higher level of A&A under SMC(r)(2) that would provide assistance with medical needs such as physical therapy, placement of indwelling catheters, or changing sterile dressings.
- They would need hospitalization, nursing home care, or residential institutional care without the benefits of in-home care.
If a veteran’s condition is severe enough to prevent them from maintaining substantially gainful employment but not severe enough to qualify for a 100% rating or SMC(t), they may qualify for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU). This allows a veteran to collect benefits at the same rate as someone who is considered 100% disabled under schedular criteria.
TDIU was created as a way to recognize that many veterans suffer from conditions that make working difficult, even though they don’t necessarily result in the need for full-time medical care. And, even though the word “unemployability” is in the full name of the program, it is possible for a veteran to work part-time or be self-employed and still qualify for these enhanced benefits. An experienced veterans benefits attorney can gather the appropriate vocational evidence to assist in the application or appeal.
Receiving Benefits for Secondary Medical Conditions
Secondary service-connected disabilities are injuries or illnesses that result from a disability that has already received a service connection. Veterans with a TBI are entitled to benefits for any conditions that were caused by their brain injury, including:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Unprovoked seizures
- Certain types of dementia
- Certain types of hormone deficiencies
Receiving benefits for secondary service-connected conditions can be tricky since the symptoms often overlap, and a veteran can’t receive two different ratings for the same disabling condition. Working with an attorney is the best way to present strong medical evidence for each condition listed.
Do You Need to Speak With a Veterans Benefits Lawyer?
If you need to speak with an experienced veterans benefits lawyer, please contact us online, or call our Virginia Beach office to schedule your free consultation. We have offices throughout Virginia, including Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Suffolk.