More than 24,000 veterans, including more than 700 from Minnesota, will be eligible to have their traumatic brain injury claims re-examined after a national review found that they were not evaluated by the properly designated medical specialist by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is often described as the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To ensure that TBI was properly evaluated for disability compensation, the VA developed a policy in 2007 that required one of four specialists — a psychiatrist, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist — to complete TBI exams when the VA did not have a prior diagnosis.
But the VA now acknowledges its own guidance on the issue created confusion, resulting in cases where some veterans' claims were denied after the exam was done by another medical provider.
Following a review of the VA TBI medical exams from 2007 to 2015, VA Secretary Bob McDonald decided to grant what is called "equitable relief" to veterans.
"We let these veterans down," McDonald acknowledged last week.
The VA has identified 742 veterans through its St. Paul field office who are eligible for new exams.
The Minneapolis VA Health Care System said it was the first to identify the problem in the fall of 2014 and, in collaboration with the Veterans Benefit Administration Regional Office, began proactively contacting veterans to receive a repeat TBI exam in February 2015.
The issue grew in magnitude when Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called for a national investigation following KARE-TV reports last summer that looked into the matter.
The advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) said it was another example of the VA's failings.
Army Green Beret and CVA national field director Nate Anderson was treated by the Minneapolis VA for traumatic brain injury only to learn that he had been misdiagnosed by the VA's medical professionals who were not certified to diagnose or treat TBI.
"Despite a workforce larger than the entire Marine Corps and a budget that continues to grow by billions of dollars every year, the VA continues to fail veterans across the country," CVA said in a statement. "These are some of the most serious injuries veterans deal with, and the VA allowed unqualified personnel to treat them."
The organization released a new video featuring Anderson as part of its "My VA Story" campaign to highlight what it said is the VA's failure to adequately care for the needs of veterans.
Because of McDonald's actions last week, the VA can take action on any new examinations without requiring veterans to submit new claims. If additional benefits are due, the VA will award an effective date as early as the date of the initial TBI claim.
The VA said it 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.
It said more than 13,000 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, the VA said.