VA Increasing Benefits for Veterans
Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries
Department of Veterans Affairs, on September 22nd
announced it will substantially increase disability benefits for veterans with mild traumatic brain
injuries, USA Today reports. Compensation payments now will be as much as $600 per month, compared
with the $117 veterans with symptoms including headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light, ringing
in the ears, irritability and insomnia currently receive. The new payments, which will begin on
October 21st, will affect between 3,500 and 5,000 veterans annually. VA estimates the added
benefits will cost an additional $120 million through 2017.
The new benefits alter a 1961 rating schedule that assesses mild brain trauma that did not recognize some brain injuries, such as those from blasts, according to Lonnie Bristow, chair of an Institute of Medicine committee that examined veterans' benefits. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said, "VA has been assessing their injuries based on outdated science." Bristow added that brain injuries from blasts do not show up on brain scans and only can be detected through assessing a patient's symptoms. In the past year, about 190,000 veterans have been screened for brain injuries. About 20% showed signs of a brain injury, but only 5% were confirmed as having such a condition.
As many as 320,000 soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have a traumatic brain injury, according to a 2008 RAND study. USA Today reports that a large majority of the brain injuries are mild and were caused by a blast, such as a roadside bomb. According to Tom Pamperin, a VA deputy director, the majority of veterans with mild cases recover, but some experience life-long effects. Pamperin added that the benefit changes will not affect those with the most severe brain injuries because they already receive adequate compensation.
According to USA Today, the announcement shows that VA is "acknowledging for the first time that veterans suffering from this less severe version of the Iraq war's signature wound will struggle to make a living." Veterans groups welcomed the changes but said some concerns still remain surrounding traumatic brain injury. The Disabled American Veterans noted that the number of cases still may be higher than is reported because the science of understanding the damage done to the brain by blasts is relatively new (Zoroya, USA Today, 9/23).
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