From 2000 to 2023, US 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 qualify for VA disability benefits if you're living with these kinds of health complications.
The VA evaluates conditions related to a TBI under 38 CFR 3.310 (d). This regulation states that veterans with a service-connected TBI may also be eligible for benefits if they've been diagnosed with any of the following conditions after a moderate or severe TBI:
Note that depression will also be presumed service-connected if diagnosed within one year of a mild TBI. Mild TBIs are less damaging than moderate or severe TBIs.
The VA uses the following evidence to rate TBI as mild, moderate, or severe:
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.
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 is not listed as a presumed service connection condition discussed above, an application for benefits can still be made under other service connection rules. See Nolo's article on the various ways to establish service connection for more information.
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.
For tips on how to get started with your application, check out our article on how to apply for veterans benefits.
You may 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.
Updated December 4, 2023