A proposed rule change would expand insurance benefits to troops suffering from a swath of service-connected injuries, including most traumatic brain injuries (TBI), heatstroke and cold weather injuries, according to a notice recently published by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The expansions to the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI) program were first proposed by the VA in 2018. There is no limitation on when claims can be filed for TSGLI payments. Those previously denied payment for newly covered injuries will be able to request a review, thanks to another expansion in the proposed rule change, which allows for appeals based on "new and material evidence."
TSGLI is an insurance program that provides short-term financial assistance to severely injured service members and veterans to assist them in their recovery from traumatic injuries. Any service member who is enrolled in the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Program (SGLI) is automatically covered by the TSGLI program. All SGLI participants are insured for traumatic injury protection of up to $100,000 for covered injuries. Different injuries have different payout amounts.
The rule change is detailed in a Federal Register notice from the VA. The notice is open for public comment until Oct. 18.
Just when the rule change would go into place remains unknown. Implementation for changes detailed in Federal Register notices can range from months to more than a year.
The proposed change would expand the list of covered injuries. Newly covered injuries would include service-related traumatic injuries from shock waves of improvised explosive devices; accidental ingestion of a contaminated substance or injuries as a result of exposure to extremely high or low temperatures; insect stings and animal bites; and traumatic injuries caused by diagnostic or medical procedures that were used to treat other service-related injuries.
The Federal Register post notes that many veterans who may suffer no external physical trauma from IED blasts may indeed incur internal injuries that take time to manifest themselves. These include TBIs, as well as stroke and other debilitating injuries.
It also said that several hundred service members suffer from weather-related injuries each year, such as frostbite or heatstroke. These injuries may have long-lasting physical effects that limit a veteran's ability to carry out a normal daily life routine, and therefore will be covered under the TSGLI program once the rule is put in place.
Several other minor proposed changes are related to the appeals process, including the implementation of a three-tiered appeal process across all military branches. Veterans who appeal decisions on their TSGLI claims must do so through their prior branch of service, not the VA. Appeals may be made by the veteran or a designated representative, and each subsequent appeal moves further up the service branch's chain of command.
Appeals may not be made while a veteran has a pending lawsuit related to their claim.
There is also language in the proposal to clarify that the TSGLI program is designed to provide financial assistance for an injury rather than an illness.
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