According to the most recent data from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), nearly 14 out of every 1,000 veterans undergoing treatment at a VA facility suffers from epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that triggers recurring seizures. It can be a debilitating condition that can cause changes in the way a person thinks, behaves, and feels. As a collective group, veterans are at a greater risk of developing epilepsy than others.
If you’re a veteran living with this condition, you could be eligible for VA compensation. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the relationship between active duty and the onset of epilepsy. We’ll also explain how the VA rates this condition and the ways you can fight to receive the benefits you deserve.
In this article about VA disability for epilepsy:
- What is Epilepsy?
- The Effects of Living With Epilepsy
- The Relationship Between Veterans and Epilepsy
- How Does the VA Rate Epilepsy?
- The Benefits of a Seizure Diary
- Navigating Your Next Steps
- Claim Compensation for Your Epileptic Condition
What is Epilepsy?
The fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States, epilepsy is a health condition most notably marked by the occurrence of recurrent and unprovoked seizures. It is caused by abnormal electric activity in the brain and affects people of all ages, with around 150,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
A spectrum disorder, no two cases of epilepsy are exactly alike. Rather, sufferers can experience symptoms that range in severity and cause varying physical, mental, and behavioral outcomes. Not only are there different forms of epilepsy, but there are also different kinds of seizures.
Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain. The two most common types include:
- Absence seizures or petit mal seizures: Can result in rapid blinking or blank stares
- Tonic-clonic seizures or grand mal seizures: Can cause jerks and muscle spasms, cries, falls and loss of consciousness
Focal motor seizures, or partial seizures, affect one specific area of the brain. These include:
- Simple focal seizures: Can cause twitching or changes in sensation (e.g. strange smells)
- Complex focal seizures: Can cause confusion or disorientation
- Secondary generalized seizures: Begin as focal seizures but spread to both sides of the brain
Each seizure can last as long as a few minutes and occur without warning.
The Effects of Living With Epilepsy
People with epilepsy do not know when their next seizure will occur, nor can they control it. As such, it can be understandably difficult to live with this condition.
Not only can epilepsy affect a sufferer’s physical mobility, but it can also take its toll on other aspects of their life, including:
- Their capability to learn and retain information
- Transportation options
- Their ability to drive or work
- School attendance record
- Their employment status
- Social interactions with others
- Close relationships
As you can see, this is an all-encompassing condition that can make it difficult to attend school, hold a job, and nurture cherished relationships.
The Relationship Between Veterans and Epilepsy
Now that you understand the basics of epilepsy, let’s discuss one important question: Why are veterans more at risk of developing epilepsy?
The answer lies in the fact that former service members are more likely to also suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In fact, a TBI is the most common form of injury or head trauma that affects both male and female veterans. Recently, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) counted around 414,000 TBIs among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and 2019. Most recently, these types of injuries have been closely linked with the wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, with TBIs recognized as the signature type of injury that occurred during those conflicts.
Some of the most common issues that can stem from a TBI include:
- Memory problems
A staggering percentage of veterans suffer from PTSD, with numbers ranging depending on the conflict that each service member was involved in. For instance, 30% of veterans from the Vietnam War suffer from PTSD, while it affects up to 20% of veterans who fought in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
According to recent VA research, these conditions can cause an onset of seizures and epilepsy, as 70% of veterans with seizures also have some form of TBI or PTSD.
Not only can these psychological issues cause epilepsy, but they can also trigger psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES). At first, these seizures look similar to those that one would experience with epilepsy, but they are caused by psychological distress, rather than electrical activity in the brain.
The Issue With Anti-Epileptic Drugs
Most often, veterans who are experiencing seizures are treated with anti-epileptic medication. The issue? While this treatment might be beneficial for some who are suffering from actual, epileptic seizures, they aren’t an effective treatment against PNES or any other type of seizure.
In addition, not only are they ineffective, but these drugs can even trigger a series of unexpected, negative side effects in patients. Some are short-term in nature, including:
- Disturbed sleep
- Bouts of hyperactivity
- Behavioral changes
Then, there are other effects that are more long-term, affecting the person’s overall mood and level of cognition. Naturally, the answer should be to conduct more rigorous testing and examinations to determine whether a veteran is suffering from epileptic seizures or PNES.
However, this is easier said than done.
Determining a seizure type is a complicated and laborious process. Usually, it requires physicians to hook patients up to an electroencephalogram (EEG) test for extended periods of time. If the patient has a seizure during that time, the EEG test can help detect which kind it is. However, it’s unpredictable whether or not this will happen.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that these veterans are not only suffering from seizures but also have the underlying conditions of TBIs and PTSD, which presents a unique challenge for healthcare workers to navigate.
How Does the VA Rate Epilepsy?
If you’re suffering from epilepsy as a result of your service in the U.S. military, you could be eligible to receive compensation from the VA to help cover the costs of medical procedures, therapies, and living expenses.
The VA rates epilepsy and seizures under Codes 8910 through 8108. Yet, it’s important to realize that someone’s condition cannot be classified as epilepsy unless a physician witnesses their seizure and performs subsequent neurological testing. Other factors that can affect your rating include:
- The severity of your seizures
- The frequency of your seizures
- Any occupational impairment stemming from the seizures
In terms of ratings, there are two main categories that the VA uses to identify the varying types. Let’s take a look at each one in greater detail.
Major seizures are generalized seizures. They affect both sides of the brain and can cause a sufferer to shake uncontrollably and lose consciousness.
Minor seizures are focal seizures. They only affect one part of the brain and result in brief bouts of unconsciousness. Common symptoms include mumbling, rocking, and muscle twitching.
The VA rates all epileptic conditions as follows:
- 100% rating: 12 or more major seizures in the past year
- 80% rating: 4 to 11 major seizures in the past year, 11 or more minor seizures per week
- 60% rating: 3 major seizures in the past year, 9 to 10 minor seizures per week
- 40% rating: 2 major seizures in the past year, 5 to 8 minor seizures per week
- 20% rating: 1 major seizure in the past two years, 2 minor seizures in the past month
If you can control your epilepsy with constant medication or you’re diagnosed with the condition with a history of seizures, your VA rating is 10%.
What happens if you suffer from a condition that causes you to experience both major and minor seizures? In that case, the VA will rate the ones that carry the higher rating percentage. These conditions will be coded as follows:
- Code 8910: Grand mal epilepsy
- Code 8911: Petit mal epilepsy
- Code 8912: Focal motor epilepsy, Jacksonian epilepsy, Sensory epilepsy
- Code 8913: Diencephalic epilepsy
- Code 8914: Psychomotor epilepsy
- Code 8108: Narcolepsy
We’ve discussed the details behind Grand mal, Petit mal and focal motor epilepsy. Now, let’s review the other codes.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Jacksonian epilepsy works in a similar way to focal motor epilepsy in that only one area of the brain is affected. Yet, this form of the condition is unique in that epilepsy travels from one part of the brain to the other.
The sufferer’s symptoms may change from one bodily location to the next. For instance, they might shake their left leg and then their right arm. It typically starts with just a finger tingling but can move all over the body.
Sensory epilepsy occurs when one of someone’s five senses are temporarily affected.
For example, the sufferer might lose their sense of smell for a few minutes, or their ability to see. While other senses can be subsequently affected, only one sense will be impacted at a time as the seizure travels around the brain.
Diencephalic epilepsy is also referred to as automatic or vasomotor epilepsy. This is a condition in which someone suffers from a seizure in multiple parts of their brain at the same time, but epilepsy does not affect their entire brain.
Diencephalic epilepsy is characterized by short, repetitive movements that might seem planned at first but are revealed to be involuntary. While these movements are occurring, the person will also experience sudden, extreme emotional outbursts, usually demonstrating fear or anxiety. Hallucinations are also common with these types of seizures.
The VA rating formula for mental health conditions like PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders is explained by one of our veterans’ disability lawyers in this video:
Similar to how one might behave while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, psychomotor epilepsy affects both the person’s mind and motions. In a way, it’s almost as though they are operating outside of their body. This can lead sufferers to perform acts they would have never done otherwise, such as acts of crime or violence.
This particular form of epilepsy isn’t usually accompanied by jerking movements or a loss of consciousness. If those symptoms appear, the VA will classify it as a major seizure. On the other hand, a psychomotor seizure that results in any of the following is usually considered a minor seizure:
- Lapses in judgment
- Involuntary twitching
- Extreme mood swings
- Uncharacteristic actions
The Benefits of a Seizure Diary
By keeping a written record of when you have a seizure, you can show your doctor and the VA a clear picture of your life with service-connected epilepsy. You can find details on how to keep an effective seizure diary here. By tracing symptoms of your seizure such as shaking, stillness, or the state of your eyes, you can show the VA the full severity of your seizures.
The frequency of your seizures is as important as the severity. If nothing else, record how often and how long you have seizures. Notes about how you felt afterward would be especially useful if you are applying for TDIU benefits. If you can’t work because your seizures are exhausting or happen too often, you may be able to get the equivalent of a 100% VA rating.
What Is TDIU?
TDIU stands for Total Disability / Individual Unemployability. With TDIU, you can get the same cash amount as a 100% rating with only a 60% rating and other conditions.
The VA doesn’t usually give 100% TDIU for just a single disability. They typically add up disabilities and veterans meet the criteria like this:
1. You have at least 1 service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disabling, or 2 or more service-connected disabilities—with at least 1 rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more—andTaken from https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/special-claims/unemployability/
2. You can’t hold down a steady job that supports you financially (known as substantially gainful employment) because of your service-connected disability. Odd jobs (marginal employment), don’t count.
Narcolepsy as a Seizure Disorder
While it’s not exactly epilepsy, the VA also rates narcolepsy as a seizure disorder. This is a certain kind of sleep pattern in which the sufferer follows abnormal sleep patterns. For instance, they may fall asleep at any time during the day, which can cause them to experience the following symptoms:
- Severe drowsiness
- Sudden muscle weakness
- Impaired vision
- Impaired speech
- Temporary paralysis
Though narcolepsy isn’t an epileptic condition, it is rated under petit mal epilepsy, or Code 8911, with a final code of 8109-8911.
While working on your VA rating for epilepsy, it may come up that it is casued by a TBI (Traumatic Brain Industry). PTSD and TBI work together on your VA Disability Claim, as explained in this post.
Navigating Your Next Steps
What should you do if you believe your epilepsy or seizures are linked to your time serving in the military? While the codes and percentages can be confusing, your first step is to determine the benefits you could be eligible to receive.
To get a general, preliminary idea, you can access our VA Disability Calculator. This condition would fall under “Additional Disability”. The calculator also takes into account other factors that could affect your payout, including:
- Your number of dependents under 18
- Your number of dependents between 18 and 24
- Your number of dependent parents
- Your marital status
Once you input this information, you can see your estimated monthly VA benefit, based on the most current Veterans Compensation Benefits Rate Tables, Effective 12/1/19.
Claim Compensation for Your Epileptic Condition
Whether you suffer from epilepsy or PNES, you shouldn’t have to live with unexpected seizures around and try to make a living. There are treatments and therapies designed to help improve your quality of life and help you find a renewed sense of peace.
With VA disability for your condition, you don’t have to worry about working to pay your day-to-day bills either. Contact us to talk about your case. The call is free and we don’t charge anything until we win your case.
Contact us today to learn more and receive a free legal consultation.
Your family doctor can verify that you have seizures and send that to the VA. CT Scans and MRIs can be ordered to find further evidence even if you don’t have a seizure at a VA clinic.
When you go in for a C&P exam, the VA doctor will work on measuring the degree of your condition. If your symptoms point to a different diagnosis, they’ll give you whichever diagnosis earns the highest rating. You can go over your application with us first to be ready.