Veteran Denied Disability Benefits for Seizure Disorder Allegedly Connected to Head Trauma Sustained in Vietnam War

Above: U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims — Image Source: Military.com

Raymond Brown, a Vietnam War veteran, suffers from a seizure disorder and has a “metallic foreign body” lodged into his scalp from a head trauma sustained while serving in the Vietnam War. Though since 1978 Brown has had disability benefits for the shrapnel wound, on October 29, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims denied Brown’s claim for benefits for his seizure disorder. This marks his third unsuccessful appeal.

In 1967, Brown’s treatment records indicated that “[he] suffered a shrapnel wound to his scalp” after which he fainted and hit his head. Brown alleges this incident marked the start of his seizures, but it was not until a 1976 visit to the emergency room that a medical examiner officially diagnosed Brown with a seizure disorder. X-rays from that emergency room visit also state that Brown had “‘a .2 by .5cm metallic foreign body’ on the right side of his head ‘and most likely in the skull[.]’” Two years after that emergency room visit, Brown filed his initial application for disability benefits for ‘“a head wound with metal still in [the] wound’ and for seizures.”

For every disability claim, the Veteran’s disability system assigns people a disability rating ranging from 0–100% for their service-related condition(s). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the disability rating is used to determine how much disability compensation the person will receive each month, as well as a person’s eligibility for other Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.

The court had initially granted Brown 10% disability rating for the shrapnel wound, but denied him benefits for his seizure disorder. They ruled, in essence, that although Brown alleges that he first began suffering from seizures in 1967, because Brown did not report his condition in 1967, the court found that his seizures were not necessarily service related, and therefore denied him disability benefits for his seizure disorder. Each court to consider his case has reached the same conclusion.

During a recent medical exam, Brown’s medical examiner concluded that “[i]t is as least likely as not that [the appellant’s] seizure disorder was caused by or related to his [service-connected] head injury incurred in 1967, during active service. It is important to point out that the retained shrapnel particles in his scalp depending on how deep … [they are] embedded could be the focus of the seizures if … [they] cause[ ] some form of compression in the brain.” Accordingly, Brown filed a pro se Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and contested the VA disability rating decision, claiming that because “it has now been established that [his] seizure disorder was a result of his TBI in Vietnam,” he should receive a higher disability rating to reflect his seizure disorder.

However, because Brown did not file a Notice of Disagreement “within one year from the date of the mailing of notice of the [2019] decision,” and because “no new evidence was received,” the board deemed his case no longer eligible for appeal.

Key words: veteran, disability benefits, seizure disorder, traumatic brain injury

Citation: Brown v. Wilkie, №19–7105, 2020 WL 6373131, (Vet. App. Oct. 30, 2020)

This post is the 32nd post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School