A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

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 Resources".

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 v. VA).

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.


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