Brain cancer refers to any kind of tumor that grows in the brain, and which may be benign—or noncancerous—or malignant, meaning it’s cancerous and will keep spreading. There are several kinds of tumors and they vary based on where they grow. Primary brain tumors originate in your brain or close to it, for instance on your spinal cord, while secondary tumors may occur when other cancers in your body metastasize to the brain.
Veterans who are diagnosed with a form of brain cancer and who can prove a service connection are eligible for VA disability benefits similar to other cancers. The difficult part is proving a service connection, when the causes of brain cancers can be difficult to trace. Certain veterans who took part in specific activities throughout the twentieth century however, may be eligible for a presumptive service connection if their service records indicate their involvement.
There are certain instances when VA treats a veteran’s cancer as a presumptive condition based on the circumstances of their service, but for other veterans, a strong nexus linking your current diagnosis to your military service must be proved.
What is Brain Cancer?
Brain cancer appears in the brain or spinal cord near the brain, and though its causes aren’t entirely known, it is characterized by growths of abnormal cells with damaged DNA. Two of the greatest risk factors are exposure to ionizing radiation and a family history of brain cancer. In veterans’ cases, radiation exposure is likely the greatest cause for concern.
Some kinds of brain cancer which are common in adults include:
Gliomas, which occur in the brain or spinal cord
Meningiomas, which occur in the membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord
Acoustic neuromas (schwannomas), which affect the nerves
Pituitary adenomas, which affect the pituitary gland
A secondary, or metastatic, brain tumor can come from any other form of cancer, though the most common types of cancer that may spread to the brain are breast, colon, kidney, and lung cancer, along with melanoma. Secondary brain tumors are more common than primary brain tumors in adults.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Brain cancer can be detected using a certain number of tests, including a neurological exam, in which your cognitive and motor functions, such as vision, hearing, balance, coordination, and reflexes, are tested to determine if your brain is being affected by a tumor.
Imaging tests like magnetic resonance testing (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can help locate and identify a tumor and help determine the treatment plan when a tumor is found.
An operation may also be done to collect a biopsy from the tumor, which would help determine whether it’s malignant or benign, and help you better understand your prognosis.
Treatment for brain cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, radio surgery, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.
Brain Cancer Benefits
If you are eligible for VA disability benefits due to your brain cancer diagnosis, the compensation you receive looks no different than it does for any other kind of cancer. An active cancer will get you an automatic 100% rating, which continues as long as you are in treatment plus six months afterwards. A new C&P examination will then be scheduled to check on your status, and whatever VA finds from then on will affect your rating. Your rating will be adjusted based on the residuals from the cancer, likely between 0, 10, 30, or 60%.
Is Brain Cancer a Presumptive Condition or Not?
This is the critical component of brain cancer diagnoses for veterans. Since the most common cause of brain cancer involves exposure to radiation or toxins, it falls on the veteran to prove that the cancer was caused by exposure some time during their military service.
Burn pits used in the post-9/11 era are commonly linked to instances of brain cancer, but brain cancer is not considered a presumptive condition. Burn pits are linked to a multitude of health problems in former service members, and advocacy efforts are underway to link more conditions to burn pit exposure. Just because a presumption doesn’t yet exist doesn’t mean veterans should give up, however. It simply means you must present a compelling case that burn pit exposure is the nexus linking your service to your diagnosis.
Since VA does acknowledge the link between ionizing radiation and brain cancer, a certain category of veterans are in the best position to receive a presumption of service connection. This would be the “Atomic Veterans” who participated in “radiation-risk” activities. For veterans who were involved in any of the the following specific scenarios, and can prove their presence via service records, VA should grant a presumption of exposure and recognize the service connection for your brain cancer.
Such activities include exposure to the residual radiation caused by the atomic bomb blasts in Japan, like the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or having been a prisoner of war in Japan in World War II.
Participation in atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in Nevada or the Pacific Ocean, or underground nuclear weapons testing in Amchitka Island, Alaska, also qualify.
Other activities include working for 250 or more days in the gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, KY, Portsmouth, OH, and Oakridge, TN, working as an x-ray technician or worked similar to Department of Energy workers belonging to the Special Exposure Cohort. Even more activities include participation during the Fukushima nuclear accident, plutonium cleanup in Palomares, Spain, and exposure to depleted uranium, radiation from long range navigation (LORAN) stations, and McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Assistance with your claim
Veterans diagnosed with brain cancer are encouraged to seek out fair disability compensation from VA whether you suspect your cancer is eligible for presumption or not. Just because you didn’t serve in any of those specific situations listed above doesn’t mean that exposure to toxins during your service hasn’t caused your brain cancer. To ensure the validity of your claim before you begin, you must have a diagnosis from your physician and be prepared with your service records to make your case.
If you need help filing your claim or an appeal for brain cancer disability benefits, get representation from VA Disability Group at 844-VET-LAWS. We will present the strongest case for linking your brain cancer to your service history and get you the VA disability compensation you deserve.