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Veterans Law

VA Disability Benefits for Epilepsy and Seizure Conditions

December 20, 2019
man in gray sweater light shining stressed due to epilepsy

Understanding Epilepsy and Seizure Conditions

Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.  Usually, at least two unprovoked seizures are required for an epilepsy diagnosis.  Seizure symptoms can vary widely and may include the following:

  • Temporary confusion
  • A staring spell
  • Uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety, or déjà vu

Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure; however, a person with epilepsy will tend to have the same type of seizure each time.  In other words, the symptoms will be similar from episode to episode.  Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half the people with the condition.  In the other half, the condition may be due to various factors, such as genetic influence, head trauma, infectious diseases, etc.  Epilepsy and seizure conditions can also be related to veterans’ military service.

Prevalence of Epilepsy and Seizure Conditions in Veterans

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3 million adults ages 18 and older had active epilepsy in 2015.  The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) estimated that the prevalence of veterans with epilepsy under treatment at VA medical facilities was 13.8 per 1,000 in that same year.  The VHA data show that about 13 percent of veterans with seizures were less than 45 years old, 39 percent were between 45-65 years old, and about 8 percent were female.

Service Connection for Epilepsy and Seizure Conditions

To receive VA disability compensation for epilepsy and seizure conditions, a doctor must have witnessed the veteran have a seizure and performed neurological testing.  If a doctor has not seen a seizure, the veteran cannot be service-connected for epilepsy.  Furthermore, it is important for the doctor to document the frequency and severity of the veteran’s seizures.  After a diagnosis is made, the veteran must show evidence of an in-service event and provide a medical nexus linking the diagnosis to the in-service event.

Veterans may also be able to establish service connection on a secondary basis.  A secondary service-connected condition is one that is caused or aggravated by an already service-connected condition.  This is important to note because veterans are at higher risk of developing epilepsy than the general public because they are more likely to have traumatic brain injuries (TBI).  Therefore, if veterans have a service-connected TBI that causes epilepsy, they may be able to get service connection for epilepsy on a secondary basis.  Once service connection is awarded, VA will assign a disability rating.

How VA Rates Epilepsy and Seizure Conditions

VA rates epilepsy and seizure conditions according to 38 CFR § 4.124a, Schedule of Ratings – Neurological Conditions and Convulsive Disorders.  All epileptic and seizure disorders are rated according to the following criteria:

Rating PercentageMajor SeizuresMinor Seizures
100%12 or more in the past yearN/A
80%4-11 in the past year11 or more per week
60%3 in the past year9-10 per week
40%2 in the past year5-8 per week
20%1 in the past 2 years2 in the past 6 months
10%Requires constant medication to control seizures or there is a definite diagnosis of epilepsy with history of seizuresRequires constant medication to control seizures or there is a definite diagnosis of epilepsy with history of seizures

 

A major seizure is classified as one that affects the entire brain.  Typically, major seizures involve a loss of consciousness and uncontrollable shaking.  Minor seizures, on the other hand, affect only portions of the brain.  These seizures cause only brief interruptions in conscious control with symptoms like mumbling, rocking, or slight twitching of the muscles, or falling down.

Types of Epilepsy and Seizure Conditions

There are many types of epilepsy and seizure conditions that fall under the “major” and “minor” classifications.  Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Grand mal epilepsy (DC 8910). Features a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.
  • Petit mal epilepsy or absence seizures (DC 8911). Involves brief and sudden lapses of consciousness.
  • Focal motor epilepsy (DC 8912). Appears to be the result of abnormal activity in just one area of the brain.  Two types of focal motor epilepsy include focal seizures without loss of consciousness and focal dyscognitive seizures.
  • Jacksonian epilepsy (DC 8912). Involves a brief alteration in movement, sensation, or nerve.
  • Psychomotor epilepsy (DC 8914). Occurs in the temporal lobe of the brain and results in the impairment of responsiveness and awareness.

Although each type of epilepsy or seizure condition has its own diagnostic code (DC), they are all still evaluated under the general rating formula outlined above.

Individual Unemployability for Seizure Disorders

Epilepsy and seizure conditions can be extremely debilitating and as result, interfere with daily life.  For example, a veteran’s service-connected seizure condition may prevent them from working.  If this is the case, they may be eligible for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) – a disability benefit that allows for veterans to be compensated at VA’s 100 percent disability rate, even if their combined schedular rating does not equal 100 percent.  Veterans who are unable to secure and maintain substantially gainful employment should explore this option in order to potentially maximize their benefits.