Veterans Disability Conditions Related to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Veterans with brain injuries or related illnesses that resulted from military service will soon have an easier time getting disability compensation.

By , J.D. The Colleges of Law
Updated 12/04/2023

From 2000 to 2023, U.S. service members experienced approximately 485,500 traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Veterans can sustain both physical and psychological impairments related to a TBI that can dramatically impact their quality of life.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a list of illnesses that the agency presumes are caused by a TBI. You may be able to qualify for VA disability benefits if you're living with these kinds of health complications.

Presumed Service-Connected TBI Illnesses

The VA evaluates conditions related to a TBI under 38 CFR 3.310 (d). This regulation states that veterans with a service-connected TBI will be eligible for benefits if they've been diagnosed with any of the following conditions after a moderate or severe TBI:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • seizures for which no cause has been established
  • certain dementias, if diagnosed within 15 years
  • depression, if diagnosed within three years, and
  • hormone deficiency diseases that are diagnosed within 12 months.

Note that the VA will also presume depression to be service-connected if it's diagnosed within one year of a mild TBI. Mild TBIs are less damaging than moderate or severe TBIs.

How Will the VA Rate the Severity of a TBI?

The VA uses the following evidence to rate TBI as mild, moderate, or severe:

  • MRI, PET, or other scans
  • length of an altered mental state or altered state of consciousness
  • length of loss of consciousness
  • length of amnesia, and
  • score on the Glasgow Coma Scale (a test used after head injuries).

It's important to note that the VA determines how severe a TBI is at the time of (or immediately after) the injury. The VA doesn't rely on any current symptoms that weren't around at the time of the TBI when evaluating whether it was mild, moderate, or severe.

The Benefit of Presumed Service Connection

When the VA presumes that a condition is service-connected, this means the veteran doesn't have to prove that the illness or injury was caused while they were in service. Additional medical evidence won't be needed, because the VA decides that the mere existence of the disease or medical condition is enough to establish a service connection. This is much easier (and quicker) than being required to submit evidence to prove your disability was caused during service.

Note that, even if your illness or injury related to a TBI isn't listed as a presumed service-connection condition discussed above, you can still make an application under other service-connection rules. See our article on the various ways to establish a service connection for more information.

Gulf War Registry Exam

Veterans who want to be evaluated for TBI, brain injuries, and illnesses resulting from TBI may be eligible for a Gulf War Registry Exam. This is a free exam that doesn't require enrollment in the VA health care system.

Veterans are eligible for this exam if they served in:

  • Operation Desert Storm
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom
  • Operation New Dawn
  • Operation Desert Shield, or
  • the Gulf War.

To ask for the Gulf War Registry Exam, contact the Environmental Health Coordinator at your local VA medical center or clinic.

How to Apply for Veterans Disability Benefits

You can apply for VA disability benefits using VA Form 21-526EZ (the VA Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation). The VA also allows you to submit your application online.

For tips on how to get started with your application, check out our article on how to apply for veterans benefits.

Further Information

For more information on TBI and resulting illnesses, visit the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center or the VA's TBI information page.

You might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you have a TBI with lasting health complications. Check out Nolo's article on getting Social Security disability for a TBI for more information.

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