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Nearly 3,000 Texas veterans get brain injury re-exams

DALLAS – As many as 3,000 Texas veterans are among the nearly 25,000 nationwide that are eligible for new traumatic brain injury exams after Veterans Affairs now admits that it used unqualified doctors to do their initial exams.

Numbers aren’t available for Dallas veterans specifically, but about 1,000 veterans associated with the Waco regional benefits office are eligible for new exams, and many Dallas-area veterans use that regional office.

About 2,000 veterans from the Houston regional benefits office are owed new exams.

Read the VA fact sheet on the program

Read the VA's letter being sent to eligible veterans

“We let these Veterans down,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said Wednesday. “That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.”

KARE 11, a TEGNA station and corporate partner of WFAA-TV, first discovered that hundreds of Minnesota veterans’ initial TBI exams were performed by unqualified doctors last year.

Earlier this year, KARE and WFAA were the first to report that the problem affected Texas veterans as well – specifically Amarillo, which is in the Dallas VA network.

Chris Attig, a Dallas-based attorney who handles VA claims, lauded the VA and its decision to reexamine veterans for TBI.

"It's a huge, huge win for veterans and I hate to say this but sometimes it feels like the media or the press does a lot more for veterans than the VA," Attig said Wednesday.

Traumatic brain injuries are often invisible but debilitating. Since they can be difficult to recognize, VA policy states that the initial diagnosis of TBI’s must be made by one of only four types of specialists, including neurosurgeons and neurologists.

But records show many VA facilities failed to fully implement the policy, denying thousands of veterans a fair chance at appropriate treatment and benefits.

Veterans eligible for new exams will receive letter in the mail. Affected veterans will have a year to schedule the new exams. Any Dallas area veterans who receive the letter and would like to share their story can email News 8 at investigates@wfaa.com.

On Wednesday the VA offered an explanation for why so many veterans were initially evaluated by unqualified doctors.

“To ensure that TBI is properly evaluated for disability compensation purposes, VA developed a policy in 2007 requiring that one of four specialists – a psychiatrist, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist – complete TBI exams when VA does not have a prior diagnosis,” the VA said in a written statement Wednesday.

“Since 2007, medicine around TBI has been a rapidly evolving science. VA designated particular specialists to conduct initial TBI exams because they have the most experience with the symptoms and effects of TBI. As more research became available, VA issued a number of guidance documents that may have created confusion regarding the policy. VA has confirmed that its TBI policy guidance is now clear and being followed,” the VA’s statement said Wednesday.

“Traumatic Brain Injury is a signature injury in Veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and VA is proud to be an organization that sets the bar high for supporting these, and all, Veterans,” Secretary McDonald said in a statement. “Providing support for Veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities.”

Click here to see the original "Invisible Wounds" investigation by KARE11 in Minneapolis.

Steven Eckert and A.J. Lagoe of KARE11 contributed to this report.