Of Note

New Relief for TBI-Injured

VA Secretary McDonald has granted equitable relief to more than 24,000 veterans following a national review of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) medical examinations conducted in connection with disability compensation claims processed between 2007 and 2015.

The action by the Secretary allows VA to offer new TBI examinations to veterans whose initial examination for TBI was not conducted by one of four designated medical specialists and provides them with the opportunity to have their claims reprocessed. Equitable relief is a unique legal remedy that allows the Secretary to correct an injustice to a claimant where VA is not otherwise authorized to do so within the scope of the law.

“Traumatic Brain Injury is a signature injury in veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and VA is proud to be an organization that sets the bar high for supporting these, and all, Veterans,” he said. “Providing support for those suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities.”

To ensure that TBI is properly evaluated for disability compensation purposes, VA developed a policy in 2007 requiring that one of four specialists—a psychiatrist, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist—complete TBI exams when VA does not have a prior diagnosis.

Since 2007, medicine around TBI has been a rapidly evolving science. VA designated particular specialists to conduct initial TBI exams because they have the most experience with the symptoms and effects of TBI. As more research became available, VA issued a number of guidance documents that may have created confusion regarding the policy. VA has confirmed that its TBI policy guidance is now clear and being followed.

“We let these veterans down,” Secretary McDonald continued. “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.

VA will contact veterans identified as part of this national TBI review to offer them an opportunity to receive a new examination and have their claims reprocessed. More than 13,000 of the 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.

Blind Baseball Offers Rehabilitative Opportunity

Guy McRoberts, Board Member for SportsVision 20/20 and the Austin Blackhawks “Beep” baseball team, is seeking individuals and groups of blinded veterans nationwide who may be interested in learning more about blind baseball by way of both demonstration and participation.

According to McRoberts, Beep baseball is a modified game of baseball for the visually impaired. The game is played with six fielders and batters, all required to wear blindfolds. The pitcher and catcher are on the batting team and are usually sighted.

The game is played with an oversized softball (16 inch circumference) with an internal beeping device. The two bases, first and third, are foam and stand upright about 4.5 feet tall and contain a buzzing device made to randomly operate when contact is made with the ball. If contact with the buzzing base is made by the batter before the ball can be fielded, a run is scored. Otherwise, the batter is out. The ball is often fielded by blocking it with the body, so the game can be physically demanding.

“Beep baseball is more than just a game, it is a rehabilitative tool,” said McRoberts.

McRoberts said that baseball has provided him with the camaraderie and physical challenges found through team sports that he had as a sighted person.

“When I lost my sight in my late 20s from an auto accident, it was sudden, it was total, and it was traumatic,” he said. “It dramatically changed all aspects of my life, from my work career to my personal relationships, and the rehabilitation centers in my state were not sufficient at that time.”

While he found some consolation and kept himself occupied through additional education, he found that participation in beep baseball provided him with interaction with other blind individuals who had already adjusted to sight loss and had reintegrated into society and were functioning independently.

“Sharing in their experiences and successes was instrumental to me as I struggled to find my way during the transition imposed by blindness,” he said. SportsVision 20/20 can be contacted through sportsvision2020.org. More information about the game, its rules, and existing teams around the country can be found at the website of the National Beep Baseball Association, or NBBA, located at www.nbba.org.

COLA Act of 2016 Signed Into Law

President Obama signed into law H.R. 5588, the Veterans’ Compensation COLA (Cost-of-Living-Adjustment) Act of 2016, on July 22. The legislation, proposed by Representative Ralph Abraham (R-LA-5), provides veterans with an increased rate of disability benefits tied to COLA increases for Social Security.

The Social Security Administration typically announces COLA changes in October with the new law going into effect December 1. VA will also be required to increase additional compensation for dependents, clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependence and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children.