Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that causes impairment in motor skills followed by cognitive and behavioral impairment as a person's condition worsens. It often starts with a slight tremor in one hand or general stiffness and slowing of movement. Speech changes, writing changes, balance changes, loss of automatic movements, and impaired balance can occur as the condition progresses, but it is difficult to predict how any one individual will be affected.
Parkinson's disease is named after James Parkinson, who first described the condition in 1817. Today, however, actor Michael J. Fox, who is best known for playing Alex P. Keaton on the NBC sitcom Family Ties and protagonist Marty McFly in the Back to the Future film trilogy, is one of the most recognizable individuals afflicted with this disabling condition and publicly raises funds for treatment research.
Receiving a Presumptive Service Connection for Parkinson's Disease
The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown. Both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role. In some cases, this includes exposure to Agent Orange while serving in the U.S. military.
Agent Orange is a tactical herbicide that was used to clear leaves and vegetation for military operations from 1962 to 1975. Veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served during this time period in Vietnam, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or on Thai Air Force bases. They may also have been exposed if they flew on or worked on C-123 Aircraft or were stationed at locations where herbicides were tested or stored.
There is no level of Agent Orange exposure that is considered safe, which means the VA has no length of service requirement before a Veteran is eligible for a presumptive service connection. Any amount of exposure, even if it was for a few days or few weeks, qualifies.
To receive a presumptive service connection, a Veteran will need to submit medical records showing that have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and military service records showing when and where they served. A Veteran is not required to have an Agent Orange health registry exam to get benefits. This exam is for Veterans with presumed exposure who want to monitor any symptoms that could be of concern before they have been formally diagnosed with an Agent Orange-related illness.
VA Benefits Available for Parkinson's Disease
VA disability benefits provide cash compensation and access to medical care. The VA uses 38 CFR § 4.124a – Schedule of Ratings, Neurological Conditions, and Convulsive Disorders, Diagnostic Code (DC) 8004 to rate Parkinson's disease, and the condition has a minimum disability rating of 30%. Residuals such as difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), speech problems (dysarthria), and bladder incontinence (neurogenic bladder) will increase a Veteran's disability rating.
Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits provide compensation at the 100% rate when a Veteran is no longer able to maintain substantially gainful employment due to their condition. To be eligible for TDIU, a Veteran must have a single service-connected disability rated 60% or higher. If they have multiple service-connected disabilities, they must have a combined rating of 70% or higher with one service-connected disability that is rated 40% or higher.
Parkinson's disease can't be cured, but medication and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms. Surgical treatments such as deep brain stimulation may be beneficial in some cases as well. However, as a Veteran's condition progresses, they may no longer be able to live independently. If this happens, Aid and Attendance benefits can be used to help pay for the cost of nursing home care.
Parkinson's disease itself is not fatal, but the complications of the condition can be life-threatening. If a Veteran passes away due to Parkinson's disease, their surviving spouse and dependent children or dependent parents may be eligible for survivors' benefits.
We're Here to Help
Coping with a Parkinson's disease diagnosis can be quite difficult. We are here to help Veterans and their family members ensure they receive full compensation from the VA. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation with Sean Kendall and his team of experienced Veterans benefits attorneys.