Service members on active duty can face exposure to environmental hazards and toxins that can develop years later into a glioblastoma or another brain tumor diagnosis. Generally, the amount veterans receive in VA disability benefits for brain tumors depends on whether the tumor is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor, connecting it to your time in the service can be a challenge. A growing body of data shows burn pit exposure places veterans—especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan—at an increased risk of developing glioblastoma and other brain tumors.
The VA considers brain cancer, along with several other cancers and diseases, as presumptively service connected in the case of exposure to radiation. However, the VA does not directly link brain cancer to exposure to toxins, such as Agent Orange or smoke from burn pits.
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In this article about brain cancer
- Brain cancer in the military
- Burn pits and brain cancer
- Agent Orange and brain cancer
- Radiation and brain cancer
- Types of brain cancer
- VA disability rating for brain tumor
- Filing a claim for VA benefits
- Hiring a veterans benefits attorney
Brain cancer in the military
Military duty can cause a service member to come into contact with carcinogens, from their specialty or the machines they use or from exposure to smoke and other environmental toxins near their work site. While studies have mostly been inconclusive about whether military personnel develop glioblastoma at higher rates than the general population, a recent investigation noted that the brain tumor type is the third most common cause of cancer-related death in the active-duty population. The same investigation also pointed to data from the VA and the National Institutes of Health showing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as 26% more likely to develop glioblastoma.
Burn pits and brain cancer
Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan entered a combat landscape with many unknown dangers from IEDs and routine outbreaks of violence to environmental and health hazards caused by exposure to burn pits and other toxic materials. However, the VA does not directly link brain cancer to burn pits, as it does asthma and other respiratory diseases.
“These cases can be won, but the connection is not presumed. So a professional medical opinion will be necessary,” VA-certified disability benefits attorney Zack Evans said. “You just have to make sure there is a scientific link between exposure and your condition.”
Veterans with glioblastoma diagnosis have successfully fought to connect their condition with the smoke and burning waste they were exposed to during their tours of duty. In a recent Board of Veterans Appeals finding, a widow successfully argued that her husband’s glioblastoma was service connected from exposure to burn pits. Her husband died in 2013 following his most recent tour of duty from November 2004 to January 2006. In the case, the VA recognized that the U.S. military used burn pits that emitted toxins and particulate matter near operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Then Vice President Joe Biden shed light on a potential glioblastoma link to burn pits in discussing his son’s cancer diagnosis in 2018.
“Science has recognized there are certain carcinogens when people are exposed to them,” Biden said in an interview with PBS in 2018. “Depending on the quantities and the amount in the water and the air, (they) can have a carcinogenic impact on the body.”
Linking military service to brain tumors pre-dates Iraq and Afghanistan. Studies of U.S. Gulf War veterans have shown an increased risk of brain cancer mortality due to environmental contaminants from the demolition of an ammunition storage facility in Iraq.
Agent Orange and brain cancer
One of the byproducts of Agent Orange is a dioxin called TCDD, which is considered one of the most toxic pollutants. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a carcinogen.
Veterans exposed to Agent Orange have developed brain tumors, including glioblastoma. The VA does not list brain cancers as presumptive conditions linked to Agent Orange. However, veterans and their surviving spouses have been awarded disability and service-connected death benefits for the condition based on the link between TCDD and cancer.
Radiation and brain cancer
The VA makes a clearer connection between elevated brain tumor risk among veterans and exposure to nuclear radiation, which was common in World War II and nuclear test sites in Nevada and some Pacific islands. For these so-called “Atomic Veterans,” the VA reviews the size and nature of the radiation dose veterans endured and lists several conditions that are presumptively linked to their time in service.
Conditions caused by “radiogenic disease” include:
- Thyroid cancer
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Tumors of the brain and central nervous system
- Other forms of cancer listed here
Other conditions also could be linked to radioactive exposure but must be supported by a nexus letter, connecting the diagnosis to military service.
Types of brain cancer
Several types of brain tumors exist, from benign (non-cancerous) to malignant (cancerous). How quickly a tumor grows depends on size and location. Glioblastoma is regarded as the most aggressive type of brain cancer.
The four most common brain tumors include:
- Metastatic: This tumor type begins from cancer elsewhere in the body and spreads to the brain.
- Meningioma: These tumors form in the meninges, or the membranes, that line the skull and vertebral canal.
- Glioblastoma: This is the most common primary brain tumor, meaning it originates in the brain. It is the most deadly form of brain cancer, with approximately 15,000 new cases each year.
- Astrocytoma: This is also a primary tumor (like glioblastoma) and is located in the brain’s cerebrum.
What are glioblastoma symptoms
Glioblastomas present with several symptoms that can vary based on tumor size, growth rate and location.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or decline in brain function
- Memory loss
- Personality changes or irritability
- Balance difficulties
- Urinary incontinence
- Vision and speech problems
VA disability rating for brain tumor
Disability ratings for brain tumors can range from 100% to 10% depending on whether they are cancerous or non-cancerous. Typically, the VA will continue its rating for two years following the removal of the tumor. Once symptoms are stabilized, the VA then shifts to rating the neurological residuals—or aftermath symptoms—of the tumor.
The VA disability ratings for brain tumors are set forth in the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities under diagnostic codes 8002 and 8003.
VA disability ratings for benign brain tumor
The minimum rating for a benign brain tumor is 60%, with a minimum residual rating of 10%.
VA disability ratings for malignant brain tumor
A malignant brain tumor, regardless of type, is rated at 100%, with a minimum residual rating of 30%.
Residual ratings for side effects of brain tumor treatment
The residuals of brain cancer treatment can cause a wide range of lasting effects that could merit additional VA disability ratings. Some brain tumors require invasive operations to remove. This can lead to motor and cognitive dysfunction—tremors or Parkinson’s-like symptoms, for example—that can also be service connected.
Additionally, radiation treatment and chemotherapy can have systemic impacts on the nervous system and organs such as the kidneys. These effects may also be eligible for VA disability compensation on a secondary basis.
Filing a claim for VA benefits
If you are a veteran and have been diagnosed with brain cancer, it could be related to your military service. For help filing your VA disability claim, contact the team at Woods and Woods for guidance. We never charge veterans for assistance filing the initial application. Our team works diligently to submit your application correctly, helping you to minimize the lengthy VA disability appeals process.
Hiring a veterans benefits attorney
Hiring an experienced VA-certified disability lawyer will help you avoid delays from improperly completed paperwork. The attorneys at Woods & Woods work hard to stay on top of disability benefit changes and develop innovative case strategies. We’re proud to have represented thousands of veterans with a comprehensive team of lawyers, case managers, and legal analysts.
Contact us and start your application today.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Disability ratings for brain tumors can range from 100% to 10% depending on whether they are cancerous or non-cancerous. Typically, the VA will continue its rating for two years following the removal of the tumor. Once symptoms are stabilized, the VA then shifts to rating the neurological residuals–or aftermath symptoms–of the tumor.
While the VA does not directly link brain cancer to burn pits, as it does asthma and other respiratory diseases, veterans with glioblastoma diagnoses have successfully fought to connect their condition with the smoke and burning waste they were exposed to during their tours of duty.