INDIANAPOLIS -- At least 300 Central Indiana veterans are among the nearly 25,000 nationwide that are eligible for new traumatic brain injury (TBI) exams.
The announcement comes after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs admitted that it used unqualified doctors to do their initial exams.
Traumatic brain injuries can be difficult to recognize. They occur when there’s a sudden trauma to the brain, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the damage.
Records obtained by Call 6 Investigates show at least 300 veterans in Central Indiana are eligible for the new TBI exams, and possibly additional treatment and retroactive benefits.
Lisa Wilken, legislative director for AMVETS Indiana, said those numbers do not include Hoosiers in the northern and southern parts of the state that will also benefit from new brain examinations.
“This will impact hundreds of veterans here in the state of Indiana financially and medically,” said Wilken. “They’ll be eligible for treatments, alternative treatments, and they’ll be eligible for financial compensation.”
Jason Emery of Greenfield, Ind., suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq.
“I had vertigo, I couldn’t think straight,” said Emery of the explosion aftermath. “It made me ill. I don’t remember a lot.”
Emery is a recovering alcoholic who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury, but said he has received treatment through the VA.
He’s happy to hear that hundreds of Hoosier veterans are receiving letters from Veterans Affairs notifying them that they’re eligible to have their claims reprocessed.
“The more people that are aware of these soldiers coming from not only with TBI, but with PTSD, especially when they’re coupled together, it’s a pretty toxic thing,” said Emery.
The VA developed a policy in 2007 requiring that one of four specialists complete TBI exams when VA does not have a prior diagnosis.
Veterans Affairs admitted that there was “confusion” surrounding this policy.
They conducted a special review of TBI exams completed between 2007 and 2015 in support of disability compensation claims.
“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,” said VA Secretary Robert McDonald. “We let veterans down. This 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.”
Lisa Wilken is urging every Indiana veteran receiving TBI compensation or if a veteran suspects he or she has a TBI, to follow up with an accredited service officer.
READ THE VA's LETTER SENT TO ELIGIBLE VETERANS BELOW
Affected veterans may contact the VA Special Issue Hotline at 1-800-749-8387.
Statements from Indiana congressmen on Veterans' Affairs TBI Announcement:
“Traumatic brain injury is one of the most common combat injuries sustained by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without an accurate diagnosis, our veterans cannot get the benefits and care they so rightfully have earned. While I appreciate that the VA is working to correct its mistake, we have to do a better job of caring for the invisible wounds of war, including brain injuries and mental health conditions.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) Indiana
“Traumatic brain injuries are a serious issue affecting many of our veterans and their families. Proper identification of traumatic brain injuries must be a priority because it is critical that veterans receive proper care on their first visit to a treatment center and not on subsequent visits years later. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced steps it will take to improve identification and treatment of traumatic brain injuries, and I will be monitoring the implementation of these changes.”
Sen. Dan Coats (R) Indiana
The pattern of problems at the VA is inexcusable. And, I'm appalled by the scandal of this week that more than 300 veterans in Indiana may have received medical examinations by personnel who weren’t qualified. This has to stop. It's long past time for the VA to be examined, from top to bottom, and those responsible for these failures to be held accountable.”
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R) Indiana, 6th District
Our veterans deserve the very best care and services, and the Veterans Administration (VA) has the responsibility to provide those who have served and their families with the treatment and resources that they need. The VA has failed to do so, and it is especially troubling that their failure has resulted in thousands of veterans having to resubmit for disability benefits that they deserve. My office is standing ready to assist any veterans who need support in pursuing their benefits, requesting new traumatic brain injury exams or seeking retroactive benefits. It is a privilege and my duty to help those who have given so much for our country access the resources and care that they have earned.
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R) Indiana, 5th District