Parkinson’s Disease & Veteran Disability Compensation
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a disease of the central nervous system, characterized by the death of dopamine producing cells in the brain. With less dopamine, a person has less ability to control their movements, body, and emotions.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are generally classified as motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms. Motor symptoms can include:
- Delayed movement
- Poor balance
Non-motor symptoms include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Urinary dysfunction
- Swallowing problems
- Mood disorders
- Cognitive deficits
VA Disability Ratings for Parkinson’s Disease
VA rates Parkinson’s Disease under 38 CFR § 4.124a – Schedule of Ratings, Neurological Conditions and Convulsive Disorders, Diagnostic Code (DC) 8004. This diagnostic code assigns an automatic minimum 30 percent rating for the condition, but it does not take into account the symptoms associated with it. Therefore, VA should continue rating as follows, after beginning with the minimum 30 percent rating:
- Evaluate each of the veteran’s symptoms/residuals associated with Parkinson’s Disease
- Calculate the combined disability rating for those symptoms
- Assign the higher evaluation (i.e. the minimum 30 percent rating for the disease itself or the combined rating of the symptoms)
Examples of symptoms/residuals of Parkinson’s Disease that VA can evaluate when assigning a disability rating include the following:
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) – DC 7203
- Speech problems (dysarthria) – DC 8210
- Bladder incontinence (neurogenic bladder) – DC 7542
Parkinson’s Disease and Agent Orange Exposure
In July 2009, the Health and Medicine Division (formally known as the Institute of Medicine) concluded in its report “Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2008”, that there is suggestive but limited evidence that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides is associated with an increased chance of developing Parkinson’s Disease. As a result, VA added Parkinson’s Disease to its list of presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. Therefore, veterans who served in the following locations during the specified time periods and later developed Parkinson’s Disease do not have to prove that their condition is related to service:
- Veterans with “boots on the ground”, those serving on inland waterways in Vietnam, and “blue water” Navy veterans between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975;
- Veterans who flew or worked in C-123 aircraft during the Vietnam War era; and
- Veterans who served along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971
Parkinson’s Disease and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when brain function is disrupted by a traumatic event such as an IED blast, a gunshot wound, a car accident, etc. Rates of TBI among service members have increased substantially since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. VA diagnoses a veteran’s TBI as mild, moderate, or severe based on the severity of his or her symptoms. Importantly, if Parkinson’s Disease develops at any point following a moderate or severe TBI, the veteran will be presumptively service-connected for it.
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease
VA has established a list of presumptive conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease, for service members that served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days from August 1, 1953 through December 31, 1987. Therefore, Camp Lejeune veterans do not need to prove that their Parkinson’s Disease is connected to their military service.
TDIU and SMC for Parkinson’s Disease
Due to the fact that Parkinson’s Disease is such a disabling condition that often affects daily functioning, veterans can look to see if they qualify for Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) – a monthly benefit for veterans who have service-connected conditions that result in severe impairment, including the loss or loss of use of extremities, blindness, the need of regular aid and attendance, etc. Furthermore, total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) may be an option if a veteran’s Parkinson’s Disease precludes him or her from securing and following substantially gainful employment. Here, veterans will be paid at the 100 percent level regardless of their combined disability ratings.