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818 Virginia veterans seen by unqualified staff for traumatic brain injury

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – Almost 25,000 veterans nationwide who have been examined for a traumatic brain injury by a VA medical provider could have been misdiagnosed.

Hundreds of those veterans are in Virginia.

Initial exams for traumatic brain injury were not given by a qualified doctor to make that diagnosis, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The department is now in the process of mailing letters, notifying those who are affected.

CLICK HERE TO READ A FACT SHEET SUPPLIED BY THE U.S. DEPT. OF VETERANS AFFAIRS.

The proper diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury is not only crucial to veterans so they can receive the best treatment, but it's also important because it could determine how much they receive in disability compensation.

More than 13,000 of those affected veterans are already receiving service-connected compensation benefits for TBI at a 10-percent disability evaluation or higher, which means that the diagnosis has already been established.

Almost half of those identified in the review who received exams are undiagnosed.

31-year-old Nate Anderson of Minnesota is one of those veterans. He served in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret for 13 years.

He has dedicated his adult life to the U.S. Army and now continues that service in fighting for veterans rights by working for Concerned Veterans for America.

On August 1, 2008, Anderson was injured while serving in central Afghanistan. He was driving his Army vehicle with fellow soldiers when they hit a central-plate IED which detonated under the vehicle.

Anderson hit his head and blacked out. He wasn't able to receive proper treatment until coming back home to the U.S.

"After that incident I started experiencing incidents that I could not explain. Issues with my memory, my speech patterns," Anderson said.

Anderson first went to the VA, and despite his gut instinct and multiple visits, he went undiagnosed.

"So I went to a private physician and their diagnosis was that I had a mild-traumatic brain injury. It took the VA nearly 8 years to come up with the same conclusion," Anderson said.

In January of 2016, he received a letter in the mail from the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs stating that under a special review of traumatic brain injury examinations completed between 2007 and 2015, he qualified for a new examination.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW A SAMPLE VERSION OF THE LETTER SENT TO VETERANS.

"This review revealed a number of initial TBI examinations that were not conducted by a neurologist, psychiatrist, physicist, or neurosurgeon. You are receiving this letter because your initial TBI exam was not performed by one of these specialists, and we are offering you the option to undergo a new TBI exam by an appropriate specialists," the letter stated.

Anderson is one of nearly 25,000 others in the U.S. who was first examined by someone at a VA medical center who was not qualified to make that kind of diagnosis.

Following a national review of all TBI exams by the VA, it was found that 818 of those veterans are here in Virginia.

Randy Noller, who works for the Virginia Regional office of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, said those numbers do not necessarily reflect the Salem location of the VA medical center.

"One thing we're not able to do at this point is drill down to local VA Medical Center facilities. The claims are/were processed through the Regional Offices, which is where the data is," Noller said.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LOCATIONS OF VETERANS AFFECTED.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has granted equitable relief to those veterans following the national review.

"We let these veterans down," Secretary McDonald said. "That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled."

The secretary's decision to grant relief will enable VA to take action on any new examinations without requiring veterans to submit new claims. If additional benefits are due, VA will award an effective date as early as the date of the initial TBI claim.

The VA says veterans identified as part of this national TBI review will be contacted to offer them an opportunity to receive a new examination and have their claims reprocessed

Affected veterans will have one year in which to request new examinations.

To inquire about the reprocessing of claims call the Special Issue Hotline at 1-800-749-8387. If you use a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, the Federal number is 711. You will be prompted to choose option "0."


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