What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that causes shaking, stiffness, and can lead to difficulty with walking, coordination, and balance. This disease occurs when neurons, the cells that form brain tissue, become impaired or die in the area of the brain that controls motor functions. Typically, these cells produce an important neurochemical called dopamine, which helps control movement. When these cells die or produce less dopamine, issues with movement result. Some of the most common early symptoms of Parkinson’s are:
- Tremor in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head
- Stiffness in the limbs and trunk
- Slowness of movement
- Impaired balance, which can lead to increased risk of a fall
In later stages of Parkinson’s, some individuals have difficulty talking and walking. Other neurological symptoms can also result from Parkinson’s, such as sleep problems, behavioral changes, depression, fatigue, and memory difficulties. Doctors still do not know the exact cause of Parkinson’s, although there is evidence showing that both genetic and environmental factors can have an impact on its development.
For veterans, there are several circumstances related to military service that can cause Parkinson’s, making the condition subject to VA disability compensation. First, Agent Orange exposure has been tied to the development of Parkinson’s disease later in life. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in service who now have Parkinson’s are eligible for presumptive service connection for their condition, meaning that the VA automatically grants service connection if the veteran can prove their Agent Orange exposure and a subsequent Parkinson’s diagnosis. Second, veterans who were exposed to the water supply at Camp Lejeune during their military service are also subject to presumptive service connection for their Parkinson’s because the volatile organic compounds in that water supply have been shown to cause Parkinson’s disease. Lastly, veterans who were exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) during their service may be eligible for service connection, although the VA does not provide presumptive service connection for this exposure as it does for Agent Orange and Camp Lejeune. For many years, TCE was used for many different purposes in the military, from parts cleaner to dry cleaning products, resulting in direct, repetitive exposure to the substance for many soldiers. Studies have since shown that TCE is a key risk factor for developing Parkinson’s, providing evidence for veterans to argue that their Parkinson’s is “at least as likely as not” caused by their exposure to TCE in the military.
Getting Service Connected For Parkinson’s Disease
The most important evidence veterans can provide when seeking service connection for their Parkinson’s disease are medical records and service personnel records. Medical records are crucial because they can show that (1) the disease was caused by an in-service environmental exposure rather than genetic abnormalities and (2) that the disease causes other severe impairments which are also subject to VA disability compensation. Since most cases of Parkinson’s do not begin presenting until late in life after the veteran has completed his or her service, it is unlikely that veterans with Parkinson’s will have in-service medical records to present to the VA. So, unlike with other impairments where it is favorable to have in-service treatment records, claim approval for Parkinson’s disease is generally not impacted by a lack of such records.
Service personnel records can provide the VA with information about when the veteran served, where he or she served, and his or her MOS. This information can help the VA determine the veteran’s likelihood of exposure to any environmental contaminants that can contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease, such as those described above.
How The VA Rates Parkinson’s Disease
When the VA rates Parkinson’s disease (or Paralysis Agitans, per VA Diagnostic Code 8004), it provides a rating of 30 percent to any veteran who has been diagnosed with the disease and can prove service connection, regardless of the condition’s severity at the time of rating. However, this is not the maximum total disability rating a veteran can receive for their Parkinson’s. Veterans can also apply for service connection for any conditions caused by their Parkinson’s, such as balance issues, tremors, difficulty walking, depression, and more. All of those conditions will receive their own schedular disability rating, which can increase a veteran’s total disability rating and thus increase his or her total compensation.
Getting Help With Your Parkinson’s VA Claim
If you are a veteran with Parkinson’s disease who is looking for help with your VA disability claim, our experienced veterans disability attorneys are ready to assist you. Please contact our office today for a free claim evaluation. We are ready to help you get the compensation you are entitled to.