Veterans Benefits for Dementia
Over five million Americans over age 65 currently have Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia diagnosis. This staggering number represents approximately 10 percent of the senior population. In a 2017 report, the VA released data that suggests cognitive impairment like Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and more are twice as common among veterans over 65 than their civilian counterparts. A previous traumatic brain injury (TBI) or diagnosis of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased risk of veterans developing symptoms of dementia; it also could mean they have eligibility for veterans disability benefits, VA health care services, and more.
Alzheimer’s disease slowly destroys memory, makes it difficult for people to care for themselves, and eventually leads to death. Alzheimer’s disease is the third-leading cause of death among Americans over age 65, with only cancer and heart disease claiming more lives.
VA Disability Ratings for Dementia
The VA assigns a rating between 0 and 100 percent for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, TBI, Lewy Body dementia, FTD, mixed dementia, and all other types of cognitive impairment. The rating scale is as follows:
- 0 percent for Dementia: Veterans may be in the early stages of dementia at this point, but the health condition does not interfere with work or social obligations, nor does it require taking medication on an ongoing basis.
- 10 percent for Dementia: A 10 percent rating means that the veteran’s dementia diagnosis only rarely interferes with work or social obligations. Veterans who must take medication continually to control the symptoms of dementia may also receive a 10 percent rating if the medication makes it possible to live a normal life.
- 30 percent for Dementia: This rating is most appropriate for veterans in the early stages to moderate stages of dementia. Common symptoms of dementia displayed at this point include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disruption.
- 50 percent for Dementia: Veterans with a 50 percent disability rating for dementia typically demonstrate reduced ability to meet work and social obligations. Mood and behavior shifts are also common at this point.
- 70 percent for Dementia: The effects of dementia are apparent in most areas of life. The typical symptoms of dementia that veterans with a 70 percent disability rating demonstrate are neglecting personal care, irritability, and mood changes.
- 100 percent for Dementia: The dementia has taken over the veteran’s life at this point, causing hallucinations, permanent disorientation, and the inability to care for themselves.
Definition and Symptoms of Dementia
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) describes dementia as the progressive loss of cognitive functioning related to reasoning, thinking, and remembering. The most common symptoms of dementia include:
- Balance and movement problems
- Describing familiar objects with unusual words
- Difficulty speaking and expressing thoughts
- Difficulty with reading or writing
- Getting lost and wandering away in familiar settings
- Ignoring personal care
- Lack of concern about the feelings of others (can sometimes include loved ones )
- Loss of interest in relationships, work, and hobbies
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment
- Repeating questions even after receiving an answer
- Taking a longer time to complete everyday tasks
The NIA indicates that dementia comes in at least four unique forms. These include:
- Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia diagnosis among older adults. The condition develops due to an abnormal buildup of protein and other changes in the brain. Symptoms are often subtle in the early stages but eventually become impossible to ignore.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the rarest type of dementia diagnosis, and it typically occurs in people under 60 years old. People with FTD have abnormal amounts of the TDP-43 and tau proteins.
- Lewy body dementia occurs due to abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein, also known as Lewy bodies.
- Vascular dementia forms after a TBI or a health condition that causes damage to blood vessels in the brain or interrupts the flow of oxygen and blood into the brain.
The VA considers veterans who have two or more of these types of dementia as having mixed dementia. This video provides a brief description of how dementia develops.
Service Connection for Dementia
To receive disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans must submit a disability claim that connects the dementia diagnosis with military service. The dementia diagnosis must be service-connected in that the veteran developed dementia while completing military service or the military service worsened an existing condition.
When applying for VA benefits, veterans must have a current dementia diagnosis and describe a specific event or occurrence that caused or exacerbated the condition. The VA refers to this as a medical nexus.
Traumatic brain injury is a common example of a medical nexus. A veteran who suffered a TBI in combat could easily link that incident to a later dementia diagnosis. Veterans with mental health challenges, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, may need to provide more medical evidence to demonstrate how their health condition developed into dementia. Some VA benefits that veterans with dementia may be able to receive upon approval of their disability claim include:
- Assisted living care
- General dementia care
- Home based primary care
- Homemaker services
- Hospice care
- Memory care
- Nursing home care
- Respite care for caregivers
Secondary Service Connection for Dementia
The term secondary service connection describes a new medical condition related to the original dementia diagnosis that the veteran developed during military service. The secondary health condition may be pre-existing if its development or progression is service-connected.
In the example of the traumatic brain injury above, a dementia diagnosis could be secondary to the TBI. Whether a dementia diagnosis is a primary or secondary service-connected condition, veterans must demonstrate a medical nexus when applying for VA benefits.
Service Connection by Aggravation
Veterans already in the early stages of dementia when they signed up for military service may be able to file a disability claim due to service connection by aggravation. The veteran applying for disability compensation must be able to prove that military service aggravated the progression of dementia and that the progression did not occur due to the normal course of aging. Medical test results and notes from doctor appointments typically provide proof the VA needs to approve disability compensation under this special category. This is an extremely unlikely scenario since early symptoms of dementia don’t typically start until much later in life.
Compensation & Pension Exams for Dementia
The VA requires some people who have filed a disability claim to undergo a medical exam known as C & P. The purpose of this exam is for the doctor to gather additional information to help the Department of Veterans Affairs approve or deny your request for VA benefits. Since the symptoms of dementia occur due to disturbances in the brain, claimants can expect to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and skills demonstration during their appointment. Veterans may also need to undergo additional medical tests such as an MRI or CT scan.
Most C & P exams take less than one hour to complete. Veterans should try to relax and go in being as honest and transparent as possible regarding their worst symptoms. The exam should hopefully uncover physical, emotional, and cognitive changes associated with dementia.
Total Disability Based on TDIU for Dementia
Total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) is another type of VA disability compensation available to veterans who meet certain qualifications. Applicants must have a single service-connected disability with a rating above 60 percent or two or more service-connected disabilities with a combined rating of at least 70 percent. People approved for this benefit must prove they cannot work at all due to a dementia diagnosis.
Contact Hill & Ponton for Additional Help
Dementia is a devastating neurological disease that affects the entire family. Due to the nature of the health condition, family members and caregivers are welcome to contact Hill & Ponton for a free case evaluation if you have received a VA decision you are not satisfied with.
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