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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.  Epilepsy has no identifiable cause in about half of those 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 a veteran’s military service.

Symptoms of Epilepsy and Seizures

Seizure symptoms can vary widely and may include the following:

  • Temporary confusion
  • Twitching in arms or legs
  • Limpness or stiffness
  • Loss of consciousness or awareness
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, or déjà vu
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting

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.

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 their diagnosis to the in-service event.

Secondary Service Connection: Traumatic Brain Injury and Epilepsy

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 (TBIs).  Traumatic brain injuries can be caused by many factors, such as a blow to the head or an object penetrating the brain.  A concussion is a common form of TBI.  Traumatic brain injuries can result in brain dysfunction and one of the common symptoms is seizures.

Therefore, if a veteran has 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 brief interruptions in conscious control with symptoms like mumbling, rocking, 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.

Burn Pits and Epilepsy/Seizure Disorders

What are Burn Pits?

Open-air burn pits are large areas of land that were used as a means of waste disposal on American bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti after September 11, 2001.  The practice was effective in reducing large quantities of waste, but the pits emitted plumes of toxic smoke.  The following materials have been linked to military burn pits:

  • Human waste
  • Medical waste
  • Ammunition
  • Paint
  • Plastic
  • Rubber
  • Styrofoam
  • Other toxic chemicals
  • Spoiled food
  • Lubricants
  • Petroleum

As these wastes were burned, harmful chemicals and toxic fumes were released into the atmosphere.  As such, many veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) have developed health conditions from hazardous exposures caused by the burn pits.

What Conditions Have Been Linked to Burn Pit Exposure?

Burning hazardous materials and chemicals in open-air pits emits toxic substances and carcinogens that can cause a host of diseases, some severe and even deadly.

Epilepsy has been linked to burn pit exposure.  Many veterans who served in areas affected by burn pits have gone on to experience seizures and develop epilepsy after their service.

In addition to epilepsy, the following symptoms or conditions have been linked to military burn pit exposure:

  • Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia
  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Allergic Rhinitis
  • Asthma
  • Autoimmune Disorders
  • B-Cell Lymphoma
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Bone Cancer
  • Brain Cancer
  • Bronchial Problems
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic B-Cell Leukemias
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Lymphoma
  • Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Constrictive Bronchiolitis
  • COPD (need to know if the Veteran did/does smokes, and for how long)
  • Diabetes Mellitus II
  • Epilepsy
  • Gall Bladder Condition
  • Glaucoma
  • Glioblastoma Multiform, and other brain cancers
  • Hashmimoto Syndrome (Thyroiditis)
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Hypertension
  • Intestinal Cancers
  • Ischemic Heart Disease (AKA Coronary Artery Disease)
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Lung Cancer, and other respiratory cancers such as cancer of the pharynx, larynx, etc.
  • Lung Condition
  • Lupus
  • Lymphoma
  • Lymphomas
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Myelodysplasia
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Non-Ischemic Cardiomyopathy
  • Pancreatic Cancer
  • Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma
  • Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s-like Syndromes, including Parkinsonism
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Poryphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Psoriasis
  • Psoriatic Arthritis
  • Pulmonary Condition
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Reactive Airway Syndrome
  • Renal Cancer
  • Renal Cell Carcinoma
  • Respiratory Condition
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Scheuermann Syndrome
  • Sinusitis
  • Sjorgen Syndrome (chronic autoimmune disease affecting salivary glands and tear glands)
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Small Cell Carcinoma
  • Soft Tissue Carcinoma
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas
  • Spinal Nerve Issues
  • Stroke
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Thyroid Cancer
  • Tonsil Cancer
  • Trachea Cancer

This list is not exhaustive, so veterans may suffer from other conditions after exposure to burn pits.   If you developed epilepsy, or any of the above listed conditions, as a result of burn pit exposure during your military service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits.

Does VA Have a Presumption of Exposure for Burn Pits?

At this time, there is little conclusive research on the long-term health impacts of burn pits.  One of the toxins released by burn pits, called TCDD, was also one of the major toxins in Agent Orange.

VA’s New Particulate Matter Presumption for Respiratory Conditions

VA recently announced that as of August 2, 2021, it will begin processing disability claims for asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis on a presumptive basis based on presumed particulate matter exposures.  Veterans will only be eligible for this presumption if they meet certain criteria, including service in Southwest Asia and other specified areas and manifestation of asthma, rhinitis, or sinusitis within 10 years of a qualifying period of military service.  Many veterans exposed to burn pits during their service and developed one of these three conditions may be able to seek service connection under this new presumption.

Specifically, the presumption impacts veterans who served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, or Djibouti between September 19, 2001 and the present day.  It also encompasses veterans who served between August 2, 1990 and the present in the Southwest Asia theater of operations.  The Southwest Asia theater of operations refers to the following areas:

  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Saudi Arabia
  • The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • The United Arab Emirates
  • Oman
  • Gulf of Aden
  • Gulf of Oman
  • Persian Gulf
  • Arabian Sea
  • Red Sea
  • The airspace above these locations

However, VA does not have a consistent approach to deciding these claims, so lay evidence from veterans is key to winning burn pits claims.  This may include statements from the veteran or their fellow servicemembers to prove exposure.

New Proposed Burn Pit Legislation 2021

As of 2021, there are several major bills currently pending in Congress that deal with the toxic exposure caused by burn pits.  These bills include:

  • Conceding Our Veterans’ Exposure Now and Necessitating Training Act (COVENANT)
  • Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2021
  • Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act
  • Toxic Exposure in the American Military Act (TEAM)

Any of these bills, if passed, would offer much needed relief to veterans suffering the toxic effects of burn pit exposure.

Burn Pits Bills Pending in Congress and Impact on Veterans

Getting Assistance with Epilepsy or Seizure VA Disability Benefits

Veterans who were exposed to military burn pits or experienced a traumatic brain injury and developed epilepsy or a seizure disorder as a result of their service may be eligible for VA disability benefits.  However, these claims can be difficult to win and cause veterans much frustration.  If you need help with your appeal for VA disability benefits, the VA disability lawyers at Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick may be able to help you.  For a free case evaluation, call our office.