February 2001/March 2001
Veterans Benefits Update
Head Injuries and Alzheimer’s Disease
By Leonard J. Selfon, Esq., Director, Veterans Benefits Program
The American Academy of Neurology’s journal, Neurology, in
October reported a study that suggests a relationship between the
development of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) in older veterans and head
injuries sustained during military service. The report, "Documented
Head Injury in Early Adulthood and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and
Other Dementias", focused on a study of World War II-era Navy and
Marine veterans who had been hospitalized during military service with
diagnoses of non-penetrating head injuries or other closed-head injuries.
The nature and severity of these injuries were also examined in the study.
These records were compared with those of veterans whose service injuries
were not of the head.
The results indicated that servicemen whose injuries were either
moderate (unconsciousness and amnesia for more than 30 minutes, but less
than 24 hours) and severe (unconsciousness and amnesia for more than 24
hours) had an increased risk of developing AD and dementia in general. An
association between mild head injury and AD was not found.
Pursuant to VA regulations, a disability which is
proximately due to, or the result of a service-connected disease or injury
will be considered to be service-connected itself. Consequently, veterans
who is currently service-connected for the residuals of a head injury
during service and who have been diagnosed with AD should contact their
local VVA service representatives for assistance with claims for secondary
service connection for AD. A listing of VVA service representatives can be
found on our website under "Veterans Benefits News and
District Court Criticizes VA Over Agent Orange Claims
A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of California sharply criticized the VA’s actions concerning
cases involving Vietnam veterans that had been exposed to Agent Orange. In
this, the latest order in a class action lawsuit that was originally filed
in 1987, the Court made clear that the door is open for earlier effective
dates on hundreds of prior awards of service connection for prostate
cancer and potentially for other Agent Orange-related conditions. (Nehmer
In Nehmer, the claimants complained that the VA
systematically refused to pay the full amount of compensation or death
benefits to class members suffering from prostate cancer and whose
deceased veteran spouses who died as a result of prostate cancer. After
reviewing the history of the VA’s handling of Agent Orange-related
claims since the 1991 Agent Orange Act, as well as the Court’s orders
throughout the lawsuit, the Court found that "it is readily apparent
that [the VA has], yet again, given [the Court’s earlier order] a
reading that is overly formalistic, and which could fairly be described as
hyper-technical and evasive."
The Court ordered the VA to comply with its earlier
order and to fix the effective date for prostate cancer and cause-of-death
claims as the date that the claim had been received – and not limiting
them to the effective date (Nov. 7, 1996) of the VA regulation concerning
prostate cancer and Agent Orange. The Court also ruled that surviving
family members of veterans who died before receiving the correct benefits
should receive the full amount, rather than limiting them to the two-year
period before the date of death under general accrued benefits claims.
Contact your local VVA service representative to determine whether the
Court’s order applies to you.